I was ready to give this book 5 stars before I even started it. I loved Wolf Hall and was anxious to begin this sequel, and it was fabulous, engrossing, amusing, and beautifully written. So, why only 4 stars? It's so close to 5 stars - maybe I'm just being too stingy.
In my review of Wolf Hall I gave the justification for 4 stars that it took about 150 pages to get used to Mantel's style of writing with the ubiquitous "he" that you eventually learn usually means Cromwell, lack of quotation marks, and dialogue that is not split into paragraphs. If I was reading the book a second time or already familiar with Mantel's style, I would undoubtedly give it the 5 stars. Maybe I should go back and be more generous.
When I opened Bring Up the Bodies I knew what to expect and was ready to fall back into Thomas Cromwell's mind to experience the drama of Henry and Anne from his point of view. Mantel does an amazing job once again of placing us within his inner thoughts. She even clarifies the "he" with "he, Cromwell" quite often.
Maybe what I didn't enjoy about this volume as much as the first was that Cromwell wasn't quite as lovable. When he is doing all he can for Henry to enable him to marry Anne, Cromwell does have that bad boy feel, but he doesn't seem overtly evil. He creeps toward evilness in this novel in a way he did not in the first. Of course, this is not Mantel's fault. She reports things as they happened, or as they could have since much of the truth remains unknown and only guessed at. She never unequivocally states that Anne committed adultery with any of the men who died for that crime, nor does she say for certain that Anne did not. I suppose that is fitting. Cromwell doubts that any of the men have gone as far as they would have liked to with the Queen, but assures himself that they are "guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged." Cromwell becomes someone who is more difficult to sympathize with and care about when he so lightly sends men to their deaths.
Mantel's humor is still unique and surprising. In the midst of a serious topic, she will throw in a nickname for someone that makes me laugh out loud. I still smiled every time I read Wriothesly referred to as "Call-Me."
So, alright, I've convinced myself. It really does deserve 5 stars. When I think of all the syrupy, simplistic, inaccurate, and bland historical fiction that I have read, I have to admit that Mantel's writing stands out as something different, complex, and captivating.