I really am not wild about the American cover (shown above). I much prefer the British cover:
First off, can we all agree that that is a totally kickass title for a book? And it's relevant and used within the book, although not exactly as I expected, which was even better.
Second. I'm generally not a big fan of historical literature, for reasons I've talked about before. But I very much liked the first volume in this trilogy, so I was game for round two.
And hoo boy, it's a miracle, but here's a middle volume of a trilogy that I actually think is better than the first volume. The story is tighter, there's less extraneous matter, Mantel is more cautious in making sure we know who's speaking (instead of the constant "he", meaning Cromwell, in Wolf Hall, here we often have "he, Cromwell", which helps enormously). She does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension. I'm no expert in British history, but even I know that Anne Boleyn's life didn't end well. For me to feel anxious as the book went along, even though I knew the outcome, is a big plus.
And the characters are even more fleshed out this time around. Talk about a bunch of flawed, difficult people, operating in a highly politicized court. King Henry is far from perfect, but there are times I really felt for him. Anne is most unsympathetic, and yet when she reaches her end, it's touching.
And Cromwell. Here is a man I'd love to have as a dinner guest. It'd be a delight to have a glass of wine and shoot the breeze with him. But here's the thing: with Cromwell, don't have more than one glass of wine and lose your internal filters, because Cromwell forgets nothing and files everything in his mind for future use. He describes his tactics:
"Look, he says: Once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand."
All righty then.
There are several passages that I enjoyed immensely, both for how they fit the story and just the sheer pleasure of reading them:
"There is a pause, while she turns the great pages of her volume of rage, and puts her finger on just the right word."
When Anne Boleyn becomes pregnant:
"The happy news seeps and leaks through the court. Anne lets out her bodices. Bets are laid. Pens scribble. Letters are folded. Seals pressed to wax. Horses are mounted. Ships set sail. The old families of England kneel and ask God why he favours the Tudors. Francis frowns. Emperor Charles sucks his lip. King Henry dances."
"You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws."
Now I'm very anxious for the final volume. I feel like Mantel picked up momentum in this book, and rather than a transitional piece, as second volumes often seem to be, she surged with this. I won't post the final paragraph, but it's fantastic and definitely sets the reader up for the work to come.