Wolf Hall: A Novel

July 5, 2010 at 6:25 pm (Historical fiction, Literary Fiction) (, , , , )

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall: A Novel by Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt, 5th printing, 2009
533 pages
Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction

Jacket copy: In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power.
England is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and Catholic Europe oppose him. The king’s quest for  freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and creates a years-long power struggle between the Church and the Crown.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell, a wholly original man, both a charmer and a bully, an idealist and an opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: Cromwell is a consummate politician, hardened by years abroad and his personal losses. Implacable in his ambition and self-taught–it is said that he can recite the entire New Testament from memory, knows Europe’s major languages, and speaks poetry freely–Cromwell soon becomes the country’s most powerful figure after Henry. When Henry pursues his desire to marry Anne Boleyn, it is Cromwell who breaks the deadlock and allows the king his heart’s desire. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition–Tomas More, “the man for all seasons;” Katherine the queen; his daughter,t he princess Mary–but what will be the price of his triumph?
Witty and persuasive, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, in which individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. Employing a vast array of historical characters, and a story overflowing with incident, [Mantel] re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

Book report: You know, despite being half-crazed, overworked, and sick (I am now recovering from a bout of diverticulitis all ’round my appendix, which was a real fun time, let me tell you), I’ve actually gotten a fair amount of reading done this spring/summer, if less than usual. And a lot of what I read is worth sharing, so if you bear with me, I’ll try to unload it all at once, in as semi-organized a fashion as I am capable. Perhaps with a little less analysis–but does anyone even like that, anyways?

When I put Wolf Hall on my hold list at the MCL, I was 486th in line for it, but it only took maybe seven, eight months to get to me. I didn’t have much trouble holding out that long (patience is not numbered among my virtues), because I wasn’t really sure I actually wanted to read it (in part because someone had told me that it was hateful toward AB, and you know I am such a fangirl for her, but also because of that present tense thing). But everyone loved it, and it was about Thomas Cromwell, and it came rather sooner than I thought it would, so I kept it in my work bag and read it on my breaks and lunches. That habit kept me reading it longer than it would have taken me otherwise, but once I got past the first couple chapters and was hooked, I didn’t want it to end, so I dragged it out as long as I could. Because I loved it. Read the rest of this entry »


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The Morland Dynasty: The Princeling

November 4, 2009 at 7:54 pm (Historical fiction) (, , , , , )


The Princeling by Cynthia-Harrod Eagles

The Morland Dynasty: The Princeling by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1981
Sphere, 2007
410 pages
Genre: Family saga, historical fiction

Synopsis & Review: Mary Tudor is dying, and England waiting to see what will happen, whether Elizabeth, daughter to Anne Boleyn, will be able to claim and hold the throne. In Yorkshire, the extensive Morland family continues their rise and considers a change of allegiance. Nanette, former lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr, lives at the Watermill House with her husband and children; as one of the last of the older generation, she and Paul Morland (third of his name) direct the family, choosing advantageous alliances through marriage and trade. But the family is fracturing along religious lines. When the old King, Henry VIII broke with Rome, England began a religious revolution, and the Morlands are in the thick of it. While some family members follow Henry’s compromise with a non-papist Catholicism, others are becoming more Protestant. In an effort to support Catholics, Paul Morland breaks with the Howard family of Norfolk, and instead allies himself with the Percys of Northumberland, arranging a marriage for his eldest son John to Mary Percy, a fierce Border leader.

Paul’s eldest daughter Lettice spends time at Elizabeth’s court before traveling in the train of Lord Darnley to Scotland. In that rough, perilous land, Lettice chooses between a wolf at the door, and one at the hearth, marrying a dangerous Scots baron, Lord Robert Hamilton. When Paul’s second son William disappears from court (he joins an actors’ troop), his third son dies, and his youngest disappears at sea, and with John in the Borders with the Percys, there is no longer an heir for Morland Place. It is then that Nanette’s adopted son Jan, himself a bastard Morland twice over, begins jockeying for position as the Morland heir at the behest of his wife, Mary Seymour.

This is only the third installment in the Morland Dynasty? Really? It feels like I must be much further into the series, considering how much time the first two spanned. The Princeling clocks in at just over four hundred pages, a good hundred-plus shorter than the first two, and also covers much less time (only thirty-one years). This may be the volume in which Harrod-Eagles decides to stop speeding through history quite so quickly, but then again, the next volume covers the Civil War. How does she spread this out over thirty-plus books at such a ripping pace? Read the rest of this entry »

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The Morland Dynasty: The Dark Rose

October 22, 2009 at 2:20 am (Historical fiction) (, , , , , )

The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Morland Dynasty: The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1981
Sphere, 2003
559 pages
Genre: Historical fiction, family saga, romance

Synopsis & Review: Picking up about 1509, at the death of Henry Tudor and a couple of decades after Eleanor Courtenay’s death at the end of The Founding, The Dark Rose follows the fortunes of the Morland family throughout the reign of Henry VIII. The first part is chiefly concerned with Paul, Eleanor’s great-grandson, now nominal head of the Morland family, though he is guided by his uncle Richard. Paul is unhappily married to his cousin Anne Butts, and finds love outside in marriage with a young widow called Ursula, who bears him a son, Adrian. Paul also struggles with his jealousy of his half-siblings, whom he believes to be illegitimate, and this burning jealousy shapes much of his early life. Through famine, plague, political intrigue, and social unrest, Paul strives to keep the Morlands whole, and ever rising. Children are fostered with prominent families, and join the court of the King, making connexions and improving the Morland prospects.

The second part follows Anne, called Nanette, the daughter of Paul’s half-brother Jack. After the death fo her parents, Anne fosters out with the Parr family, becoming close friends with their daughter Katherine. Upon maturity, she joins the Court, and is soon fast friends with a lovely girl called Anne Boleyn. The two enjoy the attentions of gallants and all the festivities of court life, until the King’s eye turns to Anne. Nanette proves her loyalty, staying with Anne and serving her throughout the long years of courtship, and her rise to the throne.

The Dark Rose sees the entire reign of Henry VIII, and all that it encompassed: war, famine, pestilence, the break with Rome, and the rise of Protestantism. Among all the graver matters, there are still shearing festivals, weddings, exciting hunts, and all manner of life and the Morlands make the painful transition from mediaeval to modern.

After finishing The Founding, I added The Dark Rose to my hold list at the library. Read the rest of this entry »

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