K's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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's review
Jul 18, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, historical-fiction
Read in July, 2012

I recently read and loved Wolf Hall (2009) by Hilary Mantel. I became interested in Wolf Hall after listening to the author discuss the just published second book of the series, Bring Up the Bodies, on NPR. Like the first book (which received the 2009 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award) her second book is receiving rave reviews. So when Bring Up the Bodies came into my hands I just dropped into a chair and started reading.

The first book ended with Cromwell assisting in the removal of Katherine as queen and putting Anne Boleyn in her place. At the start of the second book Katherine is ill and dying while in forced seclusion. Anne Boleyn has been queen for only a few years but she has been unable to produce the required male heir that Henry VIII desperately needs. Henry has also tired of Anne’s personality and a much prettier younger woman, Jane Seymour, has caught the king’s eye. So it is up to Thomas Cromwell, now Henry’s Master Secretary, to remove Anne from Henry’s side and the second book is the description of how he does it to the very bloody end. It should be noted that the term “bring up the bodies” was a call for those imprisoned in the Tower to be brought for judgment.

Cromwell is perfect for the removal job. He is now the bold, rich, untouchable advisor and enforcer. Here is an apt current description of Cromwell. “No one knows where he has been and who he has met, and he is in no hurry to tell them. He never spares himself in the king’s service, he knows his worth and merits and makes sure of his reward; offices, perquisites and title deeds, manor houses and farms. He has a way of getting his way, he has a method; he will charm a man or bribe him, coax him or threaten him, he will explain to a man where his true interests lie, and he will introduce that same man to aspects of himself he didn’t know existed. Every day Master Secretary deals with grandees who, if they could, would destroy him with one vindictive swipe, as if he were a fly. Knowing this, he is distinguished by his courtesy, his calmness and his indefatigable attention to England’s business.”

Cromwell has become powerful and vastly rich in both monies and titles but he has also made enemies in his climb to the side of Henry VIII. Cromwell is not of noble birth and this rankles the old nobility who see him as a usurper. They would love to bring Cromwell down at the first chance they are given. Cromwell understands this but still chooses to revenge past wrongs by the nobility instead of seeking their favor. Through shrewd maneuvering and playing fast with facts Cromwell makes sure that it isn’t only Anne Boleyn who faces downfall and death. The Cromwell of the first book has become a much harder and less caring man in the second book.

Like the first book this is in first person and when one reads “he” the author means Cromwell. This can be confusing to those who didn’t read Wolf Hall. But if you enjoy reading a book of full of strategy and power struggles, you love historical novels, stories about English history and royalty or just a wonderfully written book you need to pick up Bring Up the Bodies. It is just as good as the first book of the trilogy and I can’t wait for the third and last book to appear.


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