I will probably never get tired of the Tudors (they’re so damn sexy), but it is nice to get a new perspective on the story every now and then.
Up until now, despite the impressive and embarrassing amount of Tudor historic fiction I’ve read, the narrators have been very limited. They are, in order of frequency: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor, Katherine of Aragon, Thomas More’s daughter. (no one ever writes from Henry’s perspective, because he was sort of a dolt and we really don’t care what he thinks.)
As we can see, there’s a lotta ladies up there. Which is nice, since they get to tell their side of the story, feminism rah rah rah etc, but let’s be honest: those women, interesting as they were, didn’t really get to do very much besides sleep around and gossip. So it was cool to read the familiar Henry-wants-to-marry-Anne-Boleyn-oh-noes story with a new narrator: Thomas Cromwell. He was a blacksmith’s son who started out working for Cardinal Wolsey, and eventually became one of the most powerful men in England. The guy got shit done, is what I’m saying.
In addition to having a fascinating story to work with (politics! intrigue! and not all of it sexy!), Hilary Mantel does amazing things with her narration and writing that I couldn’t help but be in awe of. You know the writer’s good when there’s a three-page “cast of characters” list at the beginning of the book but you only have to consult it a couple of times. Also, her dialogue is very, very well done and on occasion is practically choking on its own dry British wit. A note of warning on the narration, though: for some stylistic reason that I don’t really understand, Mantel never refers to Cromwell by name (even though the story is from his perspective). In the narration, Cromwell is always referred to as just “he” or “him”, and only when it’s absolutely necessary does Mantel clarify things by writing “He, Cromwell.” So be prepared for that – I didn’t realize what she was doing at first, and it took me a couple page to figure out what was going on.
Verdict: five out of five stars