During the reign of King Henry VIII, there was one very influential figure that played a prominent role in the crowning of Queen Anne Boleyn: Thomas Cromwell. Wolf Hall focuses on Cromwell's background and his time at court during the height of the Boleyn rule. There's a large cast of characters to explain how Cromwell went from being the son of an abusive blacksmith, to a soldier for the French, to a money trader, to an adviser of Cardinal Wolsley, to finally one of the most powerful men in England.
It's hard to tell how much of this novel is from actual accounts and how much is made up, but Mantel does a good job of portraying Cromwell as a brilliant, yet emotionally distant man. Cromwell obviously cares strongly for his family but he finds a way to detach himself from work. You can't help but think that if Cromwell lived in current times he would be one of the guys that gets away with the downfall of a major company like Enron or AIG because of his mischievous ways.
Due to the fact that there are so many characters in this novel, if you have a background in the area (my background was only watching The Tudors and having read another book or two in the same time) you'll find things much easier to remember. Even with some knowledge of the characters, I still found it hard to determine who was speaking to who and what subject they were talking about. For this reason, it took quite a while for me to get into the book.
The book goes up to Thomas More's trial for refusing to take an oath of Boleyn's heirs and that Katherine was no longer Queen. I would have liked it to go up to Cromwell's downfall, and think it could have if it hadn't dwelled on less important points. When I picked this book up I was really looking forward to it but overall found it mildly disappointing.
First Line: "So now get up"