The Mirror & The Light – Hilary Mantel

The Mirror & The Light - Hilary MantelEnfin, Fin.

A long read, this one. Partly due to size – at over 900 pages it’s a long read (and the hardback, which is the version I was reading, was that bit too unwieldy to read in bed) plus it’s a dense read.

The chapters are long, functioning more like sections to designate key timespans, which made it all too easy to stop after a short chunk rather than getting to the end of a chapter which I find sometimes helps me get properly into a longer book.

I’m sure the general weirdness of the (first) year of COVID-19, and the long days of “working from home”, haven’t helped my powers of concentration either.

In particular I found the early/middle sections harder to get through than the other two books, but once I got to Anne of Cleves I was back in the zone.

Goodbye Cremuel.

Author page: The Mirror & The Light – Hilary Mantel


Once I’d finished, I looked up some of the names on Wikipedia. Close this review now if you don’t know how Cromwell’s story ends.

Henry VIII was shown portraits of both Anne of Cleves and her younger sister, Amalia of Cleves, as possible post-Jane Seymour brides. Amalia does not look like a docile damsel in the slightest.  In fact she looks like a young woman who has a mind of her own, and determination to match. Perhaps that’s why she never married.

An unidentified woman by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
An unidentified woman by Hans Holbein the Younger (but possibly Amalia of Cleves)

By Hans Holbeinhttps://www.rct.uk/collection/912190/an-unidentified-woman, Public Domain, Link

And “Call-Me” (aka Thomas Wriothesley) looks decidedly duplicitous in this portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger:

Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger

By Hans Holbein – Metropolitan Museum of Art [1], Public Domain, Link

Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb

Small Wars Permitting - Christina Lamb
Small Wars Permitting – Christina Lamb

Twenty years in life of female foreign correspondent, Christina Lamb, told through a series of articles and circumstances in which they came to be written.

It helps that you go to Oxford University and become friends with Benazir Bhutto, but Christina Lamb’s bravery, quick wittedness and insights are all her own. And whilst there’s a dollop of envy too,  I am not that brave.

How heartbreaking to see the book that starts and finishes with your friendship with Benazir published after her assassination.

Author page: Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from Foreign Lands – Christina Lamb

The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

The Cruel Way - Ella K. Maillart
The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

Another wonderful Virago Modern Traveller’s tale, as Ella Maillart, last seen travelling from Beijing to Kashmir with Peter “brother of Ian ‘James Bond'” Fleming, travels from Geneva to Kabul with her friend and fellow traveller, ‘Christina‘. It’s 1939, and they make the journey in Christina’s Ford car. The book focuses on their friendship as much as their travels, and has been made into a film, The Journey to Kafiristan.

I love reading about adventurous women travellers of the last century, and before. Yes, they come from privileged backgrounds, even when they claim not to, but they are going against the expectations and conventions of the age, plus they are still making the effort to get out and explore the world and encounter different people and cultures, and all this at a time before Lonely Planet or the internet. One of Ella Maillart’s main sources for her journey was the 7th century Chinese Buddhist monk, Hsuan Tsang.

Much of the book follows their experiences in Persia, and Afghanistan – and it makes me long to go back to the former (and the north western areas of Pakistan –  ‘Kafiristan‘ was Maillart’s ultimate destination – ultimately unrealised on this trip, once World War II started), and saddens me that realistically I’ll never get to experience the ancient wonders of the latter. I love that part of the world, its ancient cultures and kingdoms, its place at the centre of the Silk Roads and encounters between east and west, north and south.

Abebooks page: The Cruel Way – Ella K. Maillart

Kingmaker: Divided Souls – Toby Clements

Kingmaker: Divided Souls - Toby Clements
Kingmaker: Divided Souls – Toby Clements

1469, and Thomas and Katherine’s settled family life on the Fakenham Estate is turned topsy turvy alongside one of the Wars of the Roses‘ periodic political upheavals as Warwick “the Kingmaker” decides he likes the power of controlling the King (of being the King?) far more than he likes King Edward’s new in laws….

Yes, it’s the famous Elizabeth Woodville and the equally infamous Woodville clan. Not that we meet any of them in the third in Toby Clements’ Kingmaker Quartet…. but there’s plenty of plot here to keep us entertained!

Publisher page: Kingmaker: Divided Souls – Toby Clements

Kingmaker: Broken Faith – Toby Clements

Kingmaker: Broken Faith - Toby Clements
Kingmaker: Broken Faith – Toby Clements

Back to the Wars of the Roses, in the second of Toby Clements’ Kingmaker Quartet. I’d bought books 2 and 3 in Frinton ages ago, and had kept them to take to LA on March’s now “deferred” work trip. I reckoned I’d need something to keep my spirits up, and myself entertained during evenings on my own.

Anyway, COVID-19 put paid to that trip, and so I decided NOW was the time to read them in Heavenly Herefordshire. We’re not a million miles from Mortimer’s Cross.

Enjoyable as ever, and I’ve just started the next one… but – oh woe – I don’t have the final book* yet. Keeping my eye on AbeBooks for an inexpensive second hand copy….

Publisher page: Kingmaker: Broken Faith – Toby Clements

* Well, I think it is…