Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel, Henry Holt and Company, 2012, 410 pp
Just great! Hilary Mantel is hands down my current favorite historical fiction author. In her sequel to Wolf Hall (and her second in a proposed trilogy about Thomas Cromwell) she continues her fascinating study of a man who served Henry VIII, doing most of the king's dirty work for him, and who lived in conflict both internal and external.
This volume concerns the elimination of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. She had also failed to give him a male heir, but worse she was wildly, recklessly adulterous, opening the door to Cromwell when it was time for her to go.
Anyone who claims that Bring Up The Bodies can be read with enjoyment and full understanding without having read Wolf Hall is probably just trying to sell you the book. Not possible!
You need to know Henry VIII in all his megalomaniac obsession with obtaining a male heir. You must be one with Mantel's version of who Thomas Cromwell really was. It is required to have lived with Katherine, the first wife, and Anne Boleyn in her early days as the usurper. Not to mention having the background on the Seymours of Wolf Hall and why they would even agree to put forward the virginal Jane as the next queen.
As Cromwell goes about his work of being the henchman, wending multiple paths between the gossip, self-seeking, and power struggles, I felt his every self doubt and his sense of impending doom. He never loses his cutting edge but knowing the outcome and knowing the stakes takes nothing away from the intrigue, tension, and danger of his machinations.
Waiting for and watching the progression of events that lead to Boleyn's exposure, trial, and final demise is deliciously excruciating. It is Mantel's triumph that she can wring so much drama and insight from what has been recorded history for almost 500 years. She deserves all the acclaim and prizes she has won.
(Bring Up The Bodies has now been released in paperback. It is available also in hardcover and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)