The Mirror & the Light

Thomas Cromwell #3

Hilary Mantel

fiction historical
challenging dark informative slow-paced

784 pages | first published 2020

If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?

England, 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, Thomas 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 before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he 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. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with 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.

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challenging 73%
informative 65%
reflective 53%
dark 46%
emotional 41%
sad 41%
tense 34%
funny 12%
adventurous 4%
hopeful 2%
inspiring 2%
relaxing 2%


slow 78%
medium 21%

Strong character development?

Yes: 77% | It's complicated: 19% | No: 2%

Loveable characters?

It's complicated: 48% | Yes: 36% | No: 15%

Diverse cast of characters?

No: 54% | It's complicated: 20% | Yes: 17% | N/A: 8%

Flaws of characters centre-stage?

Yes: 91% | It's complicated: 5% | No: 2%

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