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The first two novels of Hilary Mantel’s masterful trilogy—which earned her a pair of Booker Prizes—follow Thomas Cromwell as he ascends from his place as the son of a blacksmith to become one of the most powerful men in England. The final installation begins where the second ends: at the execution of King Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, which Cromwell orchestrated on behalf of the sovereign. Cromwell is still ascendent—gaining power over both the government and the church—but now his scheming begins to betray him. Even though readers have long known how his story ends, Mantel manages to create a captivating sense of suspense—right up until, at the king’s bidding, Cromwell’s head waits beneath the executioner’s sword. Despite speculation, Mantel maintains that the trilogy is not meant to comment on the state of modern politics. “People are constantly asking me if the Reformation is like Brexit,” Mantel dryly told TIME in March, “and the answer is no.”

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