Attention Tudor fanatics: This new novel by Hilary Mantel, winner of the Man Booker Prize, is a fascinating take on Henry VIII’s early reign. Brawling, brilliant Thomas Cromwell, the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s loyal dogsbody, is the central character who rises literally from the mud of the London dockside to Henry’s right hand. Meanwhile, Katherine of Aragon is divorced, to the consternation of Europe and most Englishmen, and Anne Boleyn rises to power. Thomas More is stubbornly out of touch (and beats his wife), Jane Seymour makes brief but powerful cameos, and the novel closes with Queen Anne just beginning to lose her grip on power, Henry, and (for those of us in the know) her head. Mantel’s style conveys both the grand sweep of history and the domestic details of a grand Tudor House (NOT Wolf Hall!). A familiarity with the basics of the period will help keep the venal lords and ladies straight as you root for the commoner Cromwell with his bustling household, personal tragedies, loyalties and hatreds. He’s a thoroughly modern man, shepherding momentous events even as he is caught in them. If there’s a sequel, I want to read it!
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (Hardcover, $27)