Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) - Hilary Mantel This book doesn't take place in Wolf Hall at all!

No but for serious, this is excellent stuff, and I fear some of it goes over my head. I feel I would need to read it a couple more times to really get it. The writing is beautiful, and Mantel succeeds where many writers of fiction about historical figures fail: she makes the characters seem real, seem human. Some of the best characters were Cromwell's wards, his surrogate sons and his real one. I want a book about Rafe now. Or, failing that, one about Marlinspike.

Yes, the book can be confusing, especially since everyone is named Thomas, Mantel eschews quotation marks for dialogue as often as she uses them, and you have to keep in mind that the word "he" always refers to Cromwell unless stated otherwise. (I actually wondered at one point if she had originally written the book in first person and then gone back and changed "I" to "he" everywhere.) It's sometimes difficult to tell who is speaking. But the character of Cromwell makes slogging through all that worth it for me. He is a character, for the most part, without blinders or rose-colored glasses. He has no illusions about the world. He is a man who Knows What Must Be Done to get a certain outcome, and he does it, unafraid to get his hands dirty with the grunt-work. He is not flawless--sometimes he's a bit oblivious to the emotions of those around him. I like that Mantel telegraphs them to us, the readers, even though Cromwell doesn't think about them until they're shoved in his face.

I'm reading this book on a sort of odyssey into fiction about 15th-16th century England, in hopes of gaining some kind of Understanding of the period. It was a time of fundamental uncertainty, in which you had to change rapidly with the times, and those who couldn't change, or refused to change, often met with bloody ends. The book ends with Cromwell at the peak of his power, but we know he doesn't stay there. Interested to see where the next book goes.