The Mirror & the Light: A Novel (Wolf Hall Trilogy #3) (Paperback)
Nothing can make one feel happier to be forced to shelter in place than contemplating being in Thomas Cromwell’s shoes. The blacksmith’s son who rose to be the most trusted and honored adviser to an increasingly erratic and dangerous Henry VIII was in a situation in which it was impossible to win. In this third volume in the Booker Prize-winning series Henry goes through the last 4 of his 6 wives, while Cromwell tries to help him fend off Scotland, France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, while also avoiding the plague, the “sweating sickness,” and scheming noblemen determined to destroy him. Mantel’s writing is lively and modern with frequent sword-thrusts of wit, and she sees into the hearts of the major players who, in history, have often been portrayed as villains. A great read—you’ll be pulled into another world, but one that has parallels to our own.
— From Staff Picks by Nikki
The brilliant #1 New York Times bestseller
Named a best book of 2020 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, The Guardian, and many more
With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with her peerless, Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.
The story begins in May 1536: Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.
Cromwell, a man with only his wits to rely on, has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. All of England lies at his feet, ripe for innovation and religious reform. But as fortune’s wheel turns, Cromwell’s enemies are gathering in the shadows. The inevitable question remains: how long can anyone survive under Henry’s cruel and capricious gaze?
Eagerly awaited and eight years in the making, The Mirror & the Light completes Cromwell’s journey from self-made man to one of the most feared, influential figures of his time. Portrayed by Mantel with pathos and terrific energy, Cromwell is as complex as he is unforgettable: a politician and a fixer, a husband and a father, a man who both defied and defined his age.
"The Wolf Hall trilogy is probably the greatest historical fiction accomplishment of the past decade." —The New York Times Book Review
"The Mirror & the Light is the triumphant capstone to Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith who rose to become the consigliere of Henry VIII...The world is blotted out as you are enveloped in the sweep of a story rich with conquest, conspiracy and mazy human psychology…. Mantel is often grouped with writers of historical fiction, [but] the more apt, and useful, comparison might be with Robert Caro, the biographer of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, the great anatomizer of political power." —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
"The searing finale of Hilary Mantel’s magnificent trilogy...Mantel is clear-eyed yet compassionate in depicting her coldly calculating, covertly idealistic protagonist and the equally complex people he encounters in his rise and fall from power. Dense with resonant metaphors and alive with discomfiting ideas, The Mirror & the Light provides a fittingly Shakespearean resolution to Mantel’s magisterial work." —The Washington Post
"Wolf Hall, a decade ago, was a sensational character study that electrified an often-visited slice of history. The Mirror & the Light marks a triumphant end to a spellbinding story." —NPR
"Cromwell [has] a depth at once Shakespearean and modernist. He could be Hamlet, or the title character of one of Freud’s case studies...The dissolution of Cromwell coincides with his unmooring in time... One moment he is sucked into his childhood; the next, he is hurled into the sphere of the angels." — Judith Shulevitz, The Atlantic
"Breathtaking...The plot here is shaped as meticulously as any thriller…. With this trilogy, Mantel has redefined what the historical novel is capable of...Taken together, her Cromwell novels are, for my money, the greatest English novels of this century. Someone give the Booker Prize judges the rest of the year off." —Stephanie Merritt, The Guardian
"Is it as good as the first two books? Yes. Is it a masterpiece? Yes...Mantel may be unique among modern novelists in her ability to make the past as viscerally compelling as the present. A sensualist, she re-creates an age rife with beauty and dread...She re-creates the wicked, bawdy humor of the age, and her action scenes rival Shakespeare. She is an intricate and flawless plotter...But her overriding genius is for characterization." —The Los Angeles Times
"A masterpiece...A novel of epic proportions [that is] every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors...The trilogy is complete and it is magnificent." —Alexandra Harris, The Guardian
"Brilliant... From that opening sentence—‘Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away’—axes and the shadow of death are everywhere...Mantel takes what is known of Cromwell—his meteoric rise, his autodidactic scholarship, his reformist tendencies—and weaves them into a masterful portrait of a man at mid-life, facing up to his past." —The Boston Globe
"The entire trilogy is a brilliant engagement with the exercise and metaphysics of power in 16th-century Europe, an age in which sovereignty was understood to be divinely conferred, channeled through blood...Ms. Mantel has wonderfully conjured the mentality, materiality and channels of power in a vanished age…It is Ms. Mantel’s depiction of Cromwell’s inner workings, so credibly and vividly imagined, that make the work great, as do the characters she summons." —The Wall Street Journal
"A stunning capstone to an epic that’s both engrossing history and an unsurpassed literary achievement...The Mirror & the Light is a diadem of riches, binding together the complex pieces of Cromwell’s character while leading inexorably toward the scaffold. With the trilogy now complete, Mantel cements her position as one of our greatest literary stylists and innovators." —Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
"Majestic and often breathtakingly poetic...What The Mirror & the Light offers—even more than the two previous volumes—is engulfing, total sensory immersion in a world...As with the most powerful and enduring historical fictions, the book grips the reader most tightly when, as is often the case, the writing comes as close to poetry as prose ever may." —Simon Schama, The Financial Times
"A masterpiece...A novel of epic proportions [that is] every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors...The trilogy is complete and it is magnificent.” —Alexandra Harris, The Guardian
“Deep, suspenseful, chewy, complex and utterly transporting—truly a full banquet. Most miraculously of all, it’s every bit as good as the first two books, both of which won the Booker Prize. Imagine if the third The Godfather movie had been just as magnificent as the first two: It’s like that. A perfectly executed masterpiece.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Wall Street Journal Magazine
"These novels are sure to be among the books that endure from the early decades of this century…In a novel that could travel far on character and plot, Mantel adds the accelerant of gorgeous language…We are in strange territory, an era that can feel very foreign…But what is not strange—what is achingly familiar and acutely relevant—is the way Mantel meticulously unfolds to us the nature of the human heart, all the old unchanging lusts, avarices, jealousies, hatreds and loves, the desire to live, the fear of death." —Geraldine Brooks, Air Mail
"This is rich, full-bodied fiction. Indeed, it might well be the best of the trilogy simply because there is more of it, a treasure on every page...The brisk, present-tense narration makes you feel as though you are watching these long-settled events live, via a shaky camera phone... Mantel has…elevated historical fiction as an art form... At a time when the general movement of literature has been towards the margins, she has taken us to the dark heart of history." —The Times (London)
"Fascinating...What Mantel does, often brilliantly, is put movement and muscle on the bare bones of what’s known...[Cromwell’s] bundled contradictions—a polyglot scholar with bruised knuckles, as ruthless in business as he was benevolent at home—are more than mirror and light; they’re real, indelible life." —Entertainment Weekly
"The Mirror & the Light [features] the embroiled, ruthless, visionary hero of Mantel’s masterwork trilogy, the endlessly compelling Thomas Cromwell...Every page is rich with insight, the soul-deep characterization and cutting observational skill that make Mantel’s trilogy such a singular accomplishment." —USA Today
"Hilary Mantel has written an epic of English history that does what the Aeneid did for the Romans and War and Peace for the Russians...As Cromwell approaches his end, cast off by an ungrateful master, Mantel pulls together the strands of his life into a sublime tapestry." —The Telegraph (UK)
"Cromwell is a character for the ages...The stunning success of the novels is in large part the result of Ms. Mantel’s skill in fashioning a voice and persona that, while never anachronistic, make Cromwell seem eerily contemporary...Mantel’s genius is to make his 16th-century instincts, such as a willingness to decapitate anyone standing in his path, seem as plausible as his more familiar qualities." —The Economist
“The Mirror & the Light bears the stamp of Mantel’s genius; it’s a richly hued mural of meticulous research, enthralling characters, and expressionistic language. She is our literary Michelangelo. In Cromwell, a striver who will do anything to survive, she lets us glimpse the invention of modernity. Teeming with pageantry, intrigue, sex, and salvation, The Mirror & the Light reflects the looming tensions of every era, between those who hoard power and those who crave it.” —O Magazine
"Mantel’s prose is rich and vivid…Mantel makes the past feel so immediate that it seems possible Cromwell might actually manage to save himself…Expectations are high for this novel. And it lives up to them." —Vox
“Beautifully written…The book makes for compulsive reading; if it doesn’t win its author her third Booker Prize, there’s no justice.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Brilliant…. Mantel enthralls with her descriptions of royal life, from its bizarre rites and traditions to its practicalities…. Her research is prodigious, her skill at complex plotting breathtaking, but her greatest strength is her characters and the dialogue she imagines for them.” —Tampa Bay Times
“This huge canvas, expertly painted as always, offers many of the pleasures you’ve come to expect of Mantel and her Cromwell books...Cromwell’s execution [is] a brilliantly imagined moment.” —The New Yorker
"Another masterpiece of historical fiction...The Mirror & the Light is superb, right to the last crimson drop...A complex, insightful exploration of power, sex, loyalty, friendship, religion, class and statecraft...A stunning conclusion to one of the great trilogies of our times." —Independent (UK)
"Mantel’s prose is steadily and quietly luminous, occasionally delivering unforgettable surprises...This is a worthy conclusion to what is undoubtedly one of the great historical fictions of the age, sustaining clarity, tension and depth with a rare consistency." —New Statesman (UK)
"Mantel’s trilogy—historically scrupulous, but quaveringly alert to more recent resonances— is one of the key achievements in English literature.” —The Spectator (UK)
"In Mantel’s hands, the story of the Tudors loses all its heavy familiarity and starts to feel like a custom-built vehicle for her muscular prose and savage wit, not to mention her lifelong concern with violence and evil, religion and ghosts...The page-by-page texture of the writing in The Mirror & the Light is just as rich and interesting as ever, the pacing and the distribution of scenes are just as lively, and the details every bit as funny...Mantel’s prodigious feat is to have given Cromwell another face, one that he might even have recognized as his own; she has cast a dazzling new light onto the tarnished mirror of the past." —TLS (UK)
"Magisterial...Mantel's craft shines at the sentence level and in a deep exploration of her themes...The series' first two books won the Booker Prize—the third, rich with memory and metaphor—may be even better." —Publishers Weekly
"The longed-for final volume in Mantel’s magnificent trilogy is also a stupendously knowledgeable, empathic, witty, harrowing, and provocative novel of power and its distortions...Astute, strategic, sly, funny, poignant, and doomed, Cromwell rules these vivid pages, yet every character and setting resonates, and Mantel’s virtuoso, jousting dialogue is exhilarating...[A] timeless saga of the burden of rule, social treacheries, and the catastrophic cost of indulging a raving despot." —Booklist (starred review)