cover image The Mirror and The Light

The Mirror and The Light

Hilary Mantel. Holt, $30 (784p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9660-6

In Mantel's magisterial conclusion to the Wolf Hall trilogy, Henry VIII's fixer, Thomas Cromwell, is everywhere. Born poor, Cromwell has risen to Viceregent, Privy Seal, and Baron, with more than a fair share of blood on his hands. The story picks up where Bring Up the Bodies left off, with Cromwell, now in his 50s, witnessing the execution of Anne Boleyn. Cromwell reconciles the king to his stubbornly Catholic daughter, supervises the printing of the English Bible, and arranges the king's marriage to Anne of Cleves. Meanwhile, Cromwell reflects on his crimes and remembers his impoverished youth ("we yearn for our origins; we yearn for an innocent terrain"). In Henry's court, everyone has a grudge; key issues, whether religious, personal, or political, are decided according to who has the king's ear; and disagreement is easily framed as treason. Mantel's craft shines at the sentence level and in a deep exploration of her themes: Henry sees himself as "the mirror and light" to all other princes, but Cromwell is Henry's secret mirror, the record of the king's weaknesses and compromises. Cromwell keeps turning wreckage into building materials, until, that is, the wreckage is his. The series' first two books won the Booker Prize—the third, rich with memory and metaphor—may be even better. (Mar.)

Due to a production error, this review originally published without its star.