Hilary Mantel's power play

By CLEA SIMON  |  May 11, 2012

It's a dangerous job. "You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him," he thinks. "But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws."

As she did in A Place of Greater Safety, Mantel humanizes history, tracing the daily decisions that turn bureaucrats into villains or heroes. In Greater Safety her focus was on the young lawyers — Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre — who would launch the French Revolution (and be destroyed by the Terror). Here, the revolution is a little more subtle: in order for a kingdom to be maintained, the world as it's known will be destroyed and remade, as much in Cromwell's image as the king's.

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