Taryn's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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's review
May 02, 12

bookshelves: favorite-books-ever, what-i-read-in-2012, arc
Read from April 20 to 29, 2012

It's so, so deliciously fun to read about characters who are unrepentantly good at what they do--even (or especially) if what they do isn't very nice. Competent, confident characters are just cool. Think about it: Wolverine. Michonne. Han Solo. Samuel L. Jackson. Dean Winchester. Thomas Cromwell.

Yes, Thomas Cromwell, friend and minister to King Henry the VIII of England. Cromwell is a magnificent bastard, and I mean that in the best way possible. Even as he helps to engineer the downfall of Anne Boleyn, I couldn't help but root for him; he does what he needs to do to ensure Henry's happiness and his own house's security, and does it with ruthless competence.

In Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel's sequel to her Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, she follows Cromwell in the weeks immediately preceding the fall of Anne Boleyn. Whereas Wolf Hall took place over the course of a few years, the action in Bring Up the Bodies is compressed, to great effect: we jump right into the action and the pace doesn't let up until the final pages. I found it just as un-put-down-able as Wolf Hall, which was one of my favorite reads of 2010.

As I said above, Cromwell as characterized by Mantel is a scrappy, capable figure who, despite helping Henry challenge the supremacy of Rome, is still an underdog in a world that values noble blood, not street smarts and a quick tongue. The constant tension between Cromwell's successes for his new allies and their disdain for his methods and his humble origins was fascinating. And enraging. Though he has earned England wealth and helped to usher in what is later called the Reformation, he is still treated with scorn and derision from younger and less-accomplished men.

And while his relationship with King Henry the VIII is mutually beneficial, Cromwell's continued success depends entirely on his ability to placate this man. Mantel successfully conveys the uncertainty (and frankly, terror) of serving a monarch. Though Cromwell is quick to point out his good qualities, like friendliness, Henry VIII truly comes across like a dangerous child. He has little-to-no impulse control, paired with absolute power and a willingness to bend laws to suit himself. His various love affairs are honestly ridiculous, as he flits from young, attractive lady to young, attractive lady. Cromwell will sometimes quote from his mental copy of "the Book of Henry," or his techniques for staying in Henry's good graces, and you begin to understand the unending pressures exerted by Henry's presence. (I think this book may have made me into some sort of anti-monarchical radical?)

Please read the rest of my review over at Bookwanderer!

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Quotes Taryn Liked

Hilary Mantel
“Those who are made can be unmade.”
Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

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