Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Henry VIII and his court, as seen through the eyes of courtier Thomas Cromwell, is one of the most harrowing fictional works I have ever read– brilliant and acute, never pleasant. Am I the only reader who sees a similarity between Henry’s court and that of the Red Czar? As with Stalin, the only thing worse than not being noticed by Henry was BEING noticed by him.
But the opening of the second book also has this harrowingly beautiful passage on falconry, as Cromwell flies his Peregrines, named after the dead women in his family. There is nothing like it; Mantel has seen the birds fly.
“His children are falling from the sky. He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze. Grace Cromwell hovers in thin air. She is silent when she takes her prey, silent as she glides to his fist. But the sounds she makes then, the rustle of feathers and the creak, the sigh and riffle of pinion, the small cluck-cluck from her throat, these are sounds of recognition, intimate, daughterly, almost disapproving. Her breast is gore-streaked and flesh clings to her claws….
“Tomorrow his wife and two sisters will go out. These dead women, their bones long sunk in London clay, are now transmigrated. Weightless, they glide on the upper currents of the air. They pity no one. They answer to no one. Their lives are simple. When they look down they see nothing but their prey, and the borrowed plumes of the hunters: they see a flittering, flinching universe, a universe filled with their dinner.”