Howling My Appreciation for the Wolf Hall Series!

wolf hall bookI have to admit, I was really reluctant to try the Wolf Hall series. Though I’d heard nothing but good things from friends, fantastic fellow bloggers and colleagues, the first chapter is so brutally heavy going that I didn’t think I could make it through the first book, let alone the densely written stonker of a series. Still, after I was recommended it for the millionth time, I had a brainwave to try out the audiobook. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my recent foray into audiobooks, it’s that they’re terrific for tackling tomes. And whaddya know?! I fell hook line and sinker for this series.

After biting the inside of my cheek through the torturous first chapter, I was off. Taken far beyond the bounds of my imagining, deep into the heart of court life in Tudor England. It wasn’t so much that I could picture the setting- I was there body and soul. The richly depicted world, stitched together with exquisitely precise descriptions fully transported me. I felt like I walked alongside Thomas Cromwell, following to where his intelligent eye snagged. Picking over every detail for intrigue that would later become relevant.

For this is a story that is layered in a way that beguiles. Through the narrative, you are given hints and told to suspect every cast member- and yet it is always a surprise to find what is lurking in the round each corner. It is a story that builds on its tension and intricacies with every turn of the page, blotting out your expectations. It is, in short, a masterpiece.

Characterisation is where this series shines. I love how well Mantel paints psychological portraits with such subtle strokes. Each line on Cromwell draws us deeper into his psyche, illuminating his intelligence and strength, yet also the shadows of his vulnerability, humanity and even guilt.

And in some ways her portrayal of Anne Boleyn is even better. It’s an intriguing depiction- not quite like any other version I have seen before (and yet isn’t that always going to be the case for such an enigmatic figure as Anne?) Personally I really enjoyed this manipulative Anne, with her bursts of narcissistic rage, who has met her match in Cromwell. Strangely more captivating still is her transformation in Bring Up the Bodies as she tightens the noose around her own neck (spoiler alert 😉). While she sees the danger, she only digs her grave deeper, acting like a guilty woman. It’s almost as if she wrote the perfect script for her own demise. For me, it is the perfect depiction of a rise and fall.

bring up the bodiesOf course, so much of Cromwell’s own story hinges on this. He must continue to rise- or he will fall. It is an inevitability of a self-made man. And it is woven into the plot. Mantel is frequently careful with her words, giving the slightest hints of foreshadowing. Blink and you will miss them. We sense the tragedies waiting before they hit. We know that everything could turn on a dime. And that is precisely what happens in Bring Up the Bodies.

Every piece of the puzzle slots into place. The carefully laid out chess board marches to its bloody conclusion. It is sudden and entirely predictable- as all the best stories should be. It was acted out, just as Cromwell planned.

mirror and the lightNonetheless, there is a greater hand guiding the players. And that is the well-known fate of Cromwell, where the story winds up the story in The Mirror and the Light. Here, the languid pace slows even more, which makes sense as the stage lights dim. And yet, while I think it is an overall good conclusion, the time taken to tell it was not entirely necessary. It does not help that without Anne, the series suffers. But, I would not miss this ending- if nothing other than to feed my addiction. There is a sense that it circles back round to the start and that everything was leading to this point.

Wolf Hall dug its claws into me and recalled my passion for historical fiction. Beneath history there is a wealth of stories and Mantel is magnificent at telling them.

Rating: 4.5 bananas

So, have you read some or all of the Wolf Hall trilogy? What did you think of this beast of series? Let me know in the comments!

22 thoughts on “Howling My Appreciation for the Wolf Hall Series!

  1. Thanks for the review! I own this series on Kindle but have been reluctant to start them. After reading a lot of lousy historical fiction as a child/teen (mostly moralizing drivel by Christian authors more interested in preaching than writing a good story) I’m leery of the genre. However, the last few that I have tried (The Claudius duology by Graves, the Athenian Mysteries series by Corby, the Captain Jack Aubrey series by O’Brian) have been entertaining enough that I’m starting to appreciate historical fiction again. Now with this review I’m looking forward to starting this series in the near future.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ah I understand- I went through something similar with historical fiction (though for me it was the opposite kind of problem, since I was reading Philippa Gregory). But books like this have really changed my perception (those sound interesting as well- I’ll have to check them out). Brilliant!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad you loved them! They’re among my favorites, and it’s becoming a yearly habit to at least listen to Wolf Hall once a year. I agree that The Mirror and the Light was kind of long, but I was fine with that, knowing what was going to happen to He, Cromwell, by the end of it. I just wanted everything to endure a little longer.

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  3. Hello. Your review was almost as well done as the books!
    I love this series. Thomas Cromwell isn’t thought well of in the history books because it was his job to impose taxes and laws on behalf of the King, and so the Everyman held him in low regard.
    I love how the author captures a better image of Thomas as an ambitious man of his times. Highly intelligent, from a low background. In those days, if not born into wealth, the only way up was into the church or into trade.
    He was a good man of morals and faith, who as a courtier and king’s right hand man was trapped into doing what had to be done – or “off with his head. ”
    I struggled geeing into Book 2, but otherwise highly recommend the series.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely review. I’ve read the first two, and have to psych myself up for #3. I found Anne Boleyn so intriguing as a character that it’s hard for me to want to keep going without her. (I had the same problem with the Tudors TV series!). I will finish this trilogy eventually, I’ sure.

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    1. Thank you! I completely get that. I did think it was a great way to round off the series, particularly as it has a feeling of what goes around comes around, but I do know what you mean. It’s not the same without her!! (I get that as well!)


  5. This series was so darn brilliant that every historical fiction book now is going to seem weak in comparison. I thought I knew a lot about the period already having studied it at school and university but she put a completely different perspective on it. Mirror and the Light took me months to read because it was so intense I couldn’t cope with more thn 20 pages at a time but oh boy that ending was something.

    Liked by 1 person

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