Where much historical fiction gets entangled in the simulation of historical authenticity, Mantel bypasses those knots of concoction, and proceeds as if authenticity were magic rather than a science … Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485-1540) is one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary fiction—brutal, worldly, reticent, practical, unsentimental but not without tenderness of a kind, Biblically literate but theologically uncommitted, freakishly self-confident but perilously low on friends … He emerges from these novels if not quite a hero, then at least someone whose torments have been chosen for comprehension, like the sinful protagonist of a Graham Greene novel. This is brave of Mantel, even bravely peculiar, given the reputation of the actual Thomas Cromwell, who acted as a brutal fixer for both Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII.
Mantel is a modern storyteller, making no attempt to imitate the language of the period. But she often writes poetically, evoking (or should we say creating?) the beauties and the sordidness, the tenderness and the cruelty of the Tudor world … Cromwell is entangled in complex webs of intrigue and religious strife, of personal dramas that have international repercussions. His master King Henry is a shifty character, lacking self-knowledge, constantly and casuistically looking for loopholes in the law, for ways in which he can justify to himself if to no one else the courses of action that he wishes to pursue in order to fulfil his sexual and dynastic desires...Though Cromwell is a master politician, keeping his head down when others are in danger of losing theirs, he is not without personal motives in what he does.
Bring Up the Bodies takes up exactly where Wolf Hall leaves off: its great magic is in making the worn-out story of Henry and his many wives seem fascinating and suspenseful again … Bring Up the Bodies is in many ways a study of power and influence, how to acquire it and how to use it, and makes you realize that serving at court under a willful monarch is not so very different from negotiating your way through the corporate maze, except that now your master can only sack you, not send you to the Tower … Bring Up the Bodies (the title refers to the four men executed for supposedly sleeping with Anne) isn’t nostalgic, exactly, but it’s astringent and purifying, stripping away the cobwebs and varnish of history, the antique formulations and brocaded sentimentality of costume-drama novels, so that the English past comes to seem like something vivid, strange and brand new.