Review: Wolf Hall

Title: Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell #1) Image

Author: Hilary Mantel

Rating: ★★★1/2

Provided Synopsis: 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?

Review: The best advice I can impart with those interested in this book is to savor it. I made the mistake of waiting until the very end of the library due date to begin my read and was thus forced to rapidly complete it. With as many pages as it has and with as many years it covers, this is the kind of story that needs to be read slowly so that it can be appreciated the most for what it is — because this is a miraculous piece of historical fiction that all interested in Tudor England shall enjoy.

Wolf Hall is the first of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. It follows Thomas as a young boy living in Putney, to his journey across the sea, to his employment with Cardinal Wolsey, to his rise in favor in the eyes of King Henry VIII and his court, to the difficulties to secure a divorce and remarriage (to Anne Boleyn) for the King, and to the demise of Sir Thomas More. To my knowledge, history has often colored Thomas Cromwell to be a ruthless individual and therefore one worth a great deal of scorn. In this story, he can be painted in a sympathetic light as the reader is allowed to see the rationale behind his decisions and the forces that shaped how he could respond. He is a man who did as the King desired.

All of the key players from this time period are present, as well as a few others I had brief knowledge of before I read. There is no doubt Mantel has done her research. History has often retold this period many times over, so there is no suspense in the story; nor do I believe the reader should expect some. And while I liked this story, even I can admit that some parts were a bit too dense and had my eyes glaze over, but I still think a great deal of that reaction can be attributed to how fast I had to read. For me, the greatest amount of excitement came from the final pages of the book: because now the Court is off to Wolf Hall, which is the home of the Seymour family. The beginning of Anne’s demise follows and that has always been a topic of interest.

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