Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.
At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?
It’s not often I enjoy a sequel more than the original. But Bring Up the Bodies was so outstanding that I couldn’t put it down.
I think there were a few advantages Bring Up the Bodies had over Wolf Hall, and all of them have to do with familiarity. Readers of Wolf Hall agree that the writing is unusual, even difficult. For me Wolf Hall got off to a VERY slow start, and it wasn’t until about halfway through that I really started to get it and enjoy it. But with Bring Up the Bodies I was already familiar with the writing style, and so it didn’t take me a few hundred pages to get acclimated. I was able to start enjoying it right off the bat.
At the same time, I was already on first-name terms with the large cast of characters. I was no longer having a hard time keeping up with everyone, keeping track of who was Lord or Lady of what, who was married to who. I already knew their personalities, their quirks. So a big part of the confusion element of Wolf Hall was gone.
Yet, everything that made Wolf Hall fantastic was still present. The authenticity, the sense of humor, the court intrigue, it was all there. Thomas Cromwell remains a captivating protagonist. He’s a genuine man, a religious man, but I don’t know if you could call him a good man, and in this novel he is out for revenge. And when Cromwell gets revenge he shows no mercy. And SOOOO well researched. Oh my goodness.
I admit that I would probably be predisposed to prefer Bring Up the Bodies anyway, because of all the periods in Henry VIII’s life, his fall-out with Anne Boleyn is the most fascinating to me. He spent a decade trying to get her, alienating himself from every monarch in Europe, separating from the Catholic church, and infuriating his countrymen, both the gentry and the peasants. Then he tires of her in less than three years! Why? And he doesn’t just quietly remover her, like he did with Catherine. He TAKES HER DOWN. You can’t make this stuff up! I think that’s why I love historical fiction so much. When you take the sensational from real life, and mix in your own speculation about the whys and the particulars, it’s pure gold. And Mantel is a master.
I would not suggest reading Bring Up the Bodies without reading Wolf Hall first. While it can certainly stand on its own, it is so much easier to understand and more fun with the background from the first book. There are so many little jokes and references that aren’t really explained, because Mantel already spent 500 pages building them up in her first book. And, as I said, the writing style takes quite a bit of getting used to, and this book is significantly shorter than the first.
I’m in love with this series, and I can’t wait for the final installment. Which is too bad, because it sounds like I may be waiting a while. Eek!