I think that Hilary Mantel might be my favourite author. At the beginning of the year I decided that she was someone I was going to read more of - and the more I read, the more I like.
Bring Up The Bodies is the sequel to the Man Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall. It continues following the career of Thomas Cromwell as he navigates his way through the hazards of the court of Henry VIII. Of course Cromwell is a hazard himself and many people have to navigate their way around him, and not always successfully.
The story opens a couple of years into the marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn. We all know how this works out for Anne, so it shows Mantel's amazing skill as a novelist that the story is gripping. She creates an atmosphere of tension and peril. The mood at Henry's court is fraught, a place where even the most favoured can suddenly fall from grace and end up in the Tower. Henry himself is often afraid.
You would think, to look at Henry laughing, to look at Henry praying, to look at him leading his men through the forest path, that he sits as secure on his throne as he does on his horse. Looks can deceive. By night, he lies awake; he stares at the carved roof beams; he numbers his days. He says 'Cromwell, Cromwell, what shall I do? Cromwell, save me from the Emperor. Cromwell, save me from the Pope.' Then he calls in his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and demands to know, 'Is my soul damned?'
Cromwell is usually portrayed as a villain, but here he is a much more rounded character. Certainly his main priority is his own security and advancement. He is amassing a huge fortune from the monasteries and through bribes. He bears grudges. He will sacrifice innocent people if it serves his purpose. He is a man grieving for the loss of his wife and two daughters. He is a loving and attentive father to his son Gregory. He can be a loyal friend. He is knowledgeable about a huge range of subjects and he is good company. I liked him, though of course I wouldn't want him as an enemy.
There will be a third book in this series which I am really looking forward to. In the meantime I have another of her books, Beyond Black, on my TBR shelf.