In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
This was a book that I have really tried to like. In fact, I have come back to it numerous times, and every time I have found myself trying to talk myself into liking the book. After all, the story is ideal for a great read! Between the political intrigue, court life among Henry VIII, Sex, corruption, scandal, divorce, murder, beheadings — there really isn’t much that is missing from this story. And in the hands of the right author, this story can really be something! I just didn’t find that magic in Ms. Mantel’s rendition, however.
Thomas Cromwell, as presented in this book is a great character. The insight into a man that for may was a real mystery is superb. The strong arm for Thomas Wolsley, and eventually for the King. Cromwell was shrewd, insightful, and certainly a lone wolf. But Ms. Mantel does an excellent job of presenting the softer side of this infamous man. Devoted to family, and loyal to a fault he comes across as a man struggling to constantly put his past behind him, while at the same time survive in the constantly upwardly mobile cycles of the upper class of the Tudor world. This is a man that lost everything, and even in the face of the greatest of devastation, he was able to rise to become one of the most powerful men in England. Both of these sides of Cromwell are beautifully portrayed in this book. And the reader comes away with a much fuller picture of the man behind the legend.
The drawback to this book, however, is the writing style. There was just something very awkward about the prose, and it made it very hard to read. The shifting in points of view, and the stilted passages of conversation just made this book really hard for me to get through. There is a stutter in the flow of the writing, which for me was very difficult to get past. In the end I was more frustrated with the writing style, and it detracted from the story enough that I couldn’t connect sufficiently with the characters to get personally invested in the book. When the difficult writing style is combined with a very weighty story, this book becomes almost daunting to get through. There is just so much that it tries to tackle. The politics, the convoluted connections of the royal court, the subtle machinations of all the people involved — and this book becomes more of an effort to read than it does an escape.
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Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that’s all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth. In the end that’s all we have – to hold on tight until the dawn — Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram