The “Wolf Hall” Trilogy by Hilary Mantel, books 1 and 2

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are books one and two of an as yet unfinished trilogy. They are in a category I find utterly irresistible, namely historical fiction about the Tudors. What makes that crazy family so fascinating?

I found this trilogy on a list of “Novels All Educators Should Read” by Richard Trama. “Especially educators who want to be effective advisors.” Okay, now I begin to get it. A student, or any other young adult, needs to develop his or her “voice”, which is a reflection of identity. The Wolf Hall trilogy, set in the Tudor era, is about Thomas Cromwell, whose rise from blacksmith’s son to most important councilor to the throne of England is (at least as interpreted by Mantel – the historical record is sketchy) a stunning example of a person who “made himself up”. Certainly Cromwell was bold, intelligent and socially adept. Lucky, too. These two books bring us as far as the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII. Having peeked at Wikipedia, I know that the third book will show us Cromwell’s downfall and death.

Mantel writes some eerie descriptive prose. Best, perhaps, is her description of an incident in which Cromwell’s patron unwittingly triggers Cromwell’s defenses. Cromwell is suddenly, unintentionally, ready to sink a knife into his employer. Both manage to back off. But we don’t learn how Cromwell became such a dangerous man.

So… how does Mantel compare to Philippa Gregory? I’ve read half a dozen of Gregory’s novels. I find the two authors equally compelling. I’ll eagerly read the third book of the Wolf Hall trilogy, even though I know how it will end.


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