After being stunned by the brilliance of Wolf Hall, this book is a hard act to follow. Yet, from the very first page it is clear that this sequel is as intriguing, original and breath-taking as the first in the trilogy.
It is a story we all know well, of course. King Henry VIII wants a son and heir and tires of women quickly. The story begins with the king in the grounds of Wolf Hall, the home of the Seymour family, hunting with hawks. Immediately the reader is hooked by the imagination of Mantel, the intimacy we feel for all of the characters that we met in the first book. Gone are the brief history lessons and the slight confusion over who was talking. Everything is laid out before us: the health of the king, the paranoia, the threats, scheming, plots and the stakes never higher.
Written from Cromwell's perspective in the present tense, his story is immediate and intense. As thrilling as any thriller and more relevant than any historical fiction book ever has been due solely to the author's skill as a writer and researcher. She writes in standard English with the odd bit of cursing thrown in with Tudor slang to remind us that this is indeed historical fiction. Nobody does it better. You don't need to like Tudor history to relish this book.
Mantel is surely one of the greatest British writers and this book confirms it. Long may she reign.
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2012
Winner of the 2012 Costa Book of the Year
Shortlisted for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction
Published by Fourth Estate on 10 May 2012.