LONDON (Reuters) – British novelist Hilary Mantel unveiled the final installment on Wednesday of her Tudor trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son who rose to be King Henry VIII’s most powerful adviser only to fall from grace and meet a gruesome end.
Eight years in the writing, “The Mirror & the Light” is one of the most eagerly anticipated literary releases in recent years following the runaway success of the two previous novels in the series.
“Wolf Hall”, published in 2009, and its sequel “Bring Up the Bodies”, which came out in 2012, together sold more than 5 million copies worldwide and both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy.
Mantel, 67, is the only woman and the only Briton to have won the prestigious award twice.
The final installment picks up where the previous one left off, just after the beheading of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, a drama in which Cromwell played a central part.
The Mirror & the Light charts Cromwell’s further consolidation of power following Anne’s death, his religious reforms that cause turmoil across the land, and his eventual downfall. At the end of the book, his own head is on the executioner’s block.
The book is officially published on Thursday, but Mantel was signing copies at a special event at a central London bookstore on Wednesday evening.
While the first eager fans to get their hands on the 900-page tome waited in line to have it signed by Mantel, historical musicians played traditional tunes on 16th-century instruments including the recorder and lute.
The launch event also featured an embroidery workshop where guests made flowers in the style of Tudor roses and a dramatic performance of readings from the first two books.
Mantel’s editor, Nicholas Pearson, described the publication as an emotional moment.
“I do think this book is the crowning achievement of her career so far and that is saying something when you’ve got Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies behind you,” he said.
“It’s a book about the re-jigging of this country 500 years ago which has connotations with what’s going now,” he added.
The turbulent and bloody politics of the Tudor era, which lasted from 1485 to 1603, is a well-trodden path for writers of historical fiction, but Mantel is widely credited with elevating the genre to new heights.
“With this trilogy, Mantel has redefined what the historical novel is capable of,” wrote the Guardian’s Stephanie Merritt in her review of the latest book, which she said was also worthy of the Booker.
“She has given it muscle and sinew, enlarged its scope, and created a prose style that is lyrical and colloquial, at once faithful to its time and entirely recognizable to us.”
The New York Times also ran a highly flattering review of the work, calling it a “triumphant capstone” to the Cromwell trilogy.
“The world is blotted out as you are enveloped in the sweep of a story rich with conquest, conspiracy and mazy human psychology,” wrote the U.S. paper’s reviewer Parul Sehgal.
The London Times struck a dissonant note, saying in its own review that the third installment was “clogged with researched data” and painfully slow in parts.
“Her trilogy is a phenomenal achievement, but in The Mirror & the Light it’s more a phenomenon of amassed information and tireless enthusiasm than triumphant creativity,” wrote Peter Kemp.
Asked by Reuters if Mantel would write a sequel, Pearson shook his head.
“We’re done,” he said, “we’re done.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by David Gregorio