A hefty, believable, meticulously researched fictional take on Tudor England in the Cromwell era. Cromwell is one of the more mysterious characters of history, and Mantel does a solid job of filling in the blanks. The readers with great taste I rely on for recommendations are split on this one: some love it, some hate it. Either way, this 2009 Man Booker Prize winner is widely praised for its inventiveness. I picked a beautiful red copy up at a library book sale a few years ago and its been mocking me from my shelves ever since: I'm hoping to knock it off this summer.
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.