Ah, Thomas Cromwell – what a guy. The Mirror and The Light is Hilary Mantel’s third installment in the trilogy detailing his life in all its glory. It is an award-worthy effort if only for the amount of research put into it.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: March 5th 2020
‘England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion, and courage.’ – Goodreads
In my first year of University I encountered a professor who had dedicated his work to accusing Anne Boleyn of adultery, and in his eyes, Thomas Cromwell could do no wrong. So when I came across this novel during my journey through the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist, I was … curious. I had not read the previous two novels because of my
personal vendetta dislike of Cromwell, but I thought I would give this a chance. And I’m not sure if this was a mistake or not…
It was not by a serpent, but by paper and ink that evil came into the world.
First off, Mantel’s prose is absolutely gorgeous. I can’t think of another novel where the writing even comes close to how beautiful it is in this book. The interactions between the characters are engaging and realistic, lending credibility to their actions. Mantel effortlessly succeeds at bringing these long-dead people to life.
Just like in the real Tudor court, the plot is filled with twists and turns, excitement and thrills. We watch the final half of Cromwell’s life as he falls from Henry’s graces, to the point that at times I even felt sorry for Cromwell. Ew.
Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.
However, this was one of those novels where you find yourself rereading the same sentence over and over again. I found it to be incredibly dense, and despite its thrilling plot there was a lot of filler. I suppose this is to be expected when you are detailing somebody’s life, and this is both a strength and a weakness. The novel must be read more than once to absorb all the information fully.
The Mirror and The Light might be worthy of four stars upon another read. This is not a bad novel, it is just one that requires an immense amount of concentration to get through. Did it make me like Thomas Cromwell? No. Did it allow me to understand his desires, motives and emotions a little better than before? Yes. But ultimately, I’m still an Anne Boleyn stan.