It took me a while to read this, and its sequel BRING UP THE BODIES, but I did it. I finished both. Darkly intelligent, with such concise accuracy, Hilary Mantel has imagined the subtle nuances most of us would not have even thought about. She has explored a darkly maligned character in history – Thomas Cromwell – in such a way that she has brought him to life with all his flaws and virtues, describing him not as a monster but a man of his time, and even a man before his time, the father of modern democracy. The history we were taught at school is sometimes so different – a bad reputation sticks. I’m not saying he was an angel, because he wasn’t, but Hilary Mantel portrays him as human. I particularly like the way in which Cromwell is mocked by his aristocratic contemporaries for being a blacksmith’s son, and the way she touches on the class system here – which actually became more rigid and difficult to transcend or overcome in later centuries. Well worth the read even if you dip in and out because of sheer size of it. I left my bookmark in, and went back to it later, and was able to completely get back into the swing of it.