Title: Bring Up the Bodies
Author: Hilary Mantel
Release Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Henry Holt
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
It’s after the events of Wolf Hall, and King Henry VIII is now married to Anne Boleyn. But, after fighting so hard to marry her and divorce Katherine of Aragon, the king is still unhappy. Thomas Cromwell, the king’s secretary and a commoner, must navigate the treacherous waters of the king’s court and protect his own future while also doing what he thinks is best for the king.
Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall, and while it can work as a standalone if you are very familiar with the history of Henry VIII, it works best as what it is – the middle volume in a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. Usually, in trilogies, middle books are the weakest. They don’t have the novelty of the first and have trouble living up to its promise, and often just function to set up an explosive third book. Happily, Bring Up the Bodies doesn’t suffer from these issues, as it’s a riveting book in its own right.
There is a certain sense of urgency in Bring Up the Bodies that I didn’t necessarily feel was present in Wolf Hall. Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon was a protracted, messy affair that took seven years. The downfall of Anne Boleyn, which is the focus of this book, only took three weeks. As a result, things move surprisingly swiftly. It makes for an absolutely compulsive read; though I knew exactly how things were going to turn out, I simply could not put this book down.
Mantel’s interpretation of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is very interesting. It was clear in Wolf Hall that the author wasn’t the biggest fan of Anne, or at least, didn’t want to cast her in the most positive light. This trend continues through Bring Up the Bodies; I was surprised at the direction Mantel took it, but found it absolutely fascinating. Henry VIII’s dispassion when it came to the woman for whom he fought for so long was disquieting, to say the least. Because we see these characters through Cromwell’s eyes, we only get to know them as he sees them, but Mantel’s character development is so good that the reader still feels as though they are in each person’s head.
It’s clear that the last book in the trilogy will deal with Cromwell’s downfall after Henry VIII’s failed marriage to Anne of Cleves. Mantel has done an excellent job with these books, centering each on a pivotal event (or series of events) in Cromwell’s career. As a result, this book is easy to read and engaging. The frustrating pronoun issue from Wolf Hall is dealt with much more successfully in Bring Up the Bodies, though I still maintain the book would have been more readable had it been written in first person. Still, I absolutely loved it and already cannot wait for the final novel. Mantel really immerses the reader in the time period; her details are excellent and it’s clear her research is impeccable. If you’re at all interested in Tudor history, I cannot recommend Bring Up the Bodies highly enough.
Other books by Hilary Mantel: