This is the second in Mantel's historical fiction series about Thomas Cromwell. The first was Wolf Hall, which I resisted for some time before finding it at Half-Price Books and deciding what the hell. Two long flights from coast to coast gave me ample time to sink into that story, and once I had waded past the first few pages, I found myself fully immersed.
The same holds true of this book, which is also much shorter than the first. If you consider that Wolf Hall begins with Cromwell in his youth and his climb through the service of Cardinal Wolsey to the ascension of Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII's second wife, it makes sense. That's a lot of ground to cover. Bring Up the Bodies takes the story from Henry's waning interest in Anne and growing interest in Jane Seymour through the former's execution and the latter's marriage to Henry. All from Cromwell's point of view as he works to keep the king happy—and if the king's wishes are in some accord with Cromwell's desire for revenge against those who brought Wolsey down, that is just an added bonus, yes?
Again, I struggled with the first few pages, even though I'd loved Wolf Hall in the end and was sure this book would be just as good. I don't know why I have such a hard time getting into them, but if you're like me, do try to stick it out for a bit. Don't give up too soon.
Mantel's characterization of Cromwell is very rich; he feels real here, almost everyone does. I did find it distracting that, because of the point of view from which the book is written, Mantel was forced to often use 'him, Cromwell' and 'he, Cromwell' in order to make clear from whence the action or words issue. There is no way around it that I can see short of changing the POV, and that would be a crime. Still, it was something very obvious, something I noticed every single time it occurred.
If you know your history—or are inclined toward Wikipedia, I suppose—you can see where this is all leading. I know my fair share of Henry and his wives, but I'll admit my knowledge of Cromwell is limited. I'm avoiding the Wiki entry now because I'd rather read Mantel's books and be surprised, at least by the details. (I do have a sense of what eventually happens.) No spoilers, please! Yet even if you do know the details, these books have plenty to offer. If you love rich historical fiction with depth of character, these books are for you.