I had an awful lot of respect for Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's
first award-winning foray into the life the of Thomas Cromwell and
heavy-duty historical figures like Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. However,
given my lack of hardcore English history, I found it to be
overwhelming at times, more like a history assignment that I had to plug
my way through vs. a novel read solely for pleasure.
So I don't know if Mantel dumbed it down a little or I smartened up a bit (perhaps a combo of both?), but while still quite delightfully complex and oh-so-literary (I'd say, it is regally written!), I had such an easier time with and more thoroughly enjoyed Bring Up The Bodies - Mantel's continuation of the story, which almost impossibly has seem to won even more awards.
I think part of the reason is that where Wolf Hall was more sprawling and covering decades (with a cast of seemingly hundreds), Bodies is much more concentrated timeline-wise and more tightly focused on the juicy subject matter of the fall of Anne Boleyn (to be honest, the Anne/line of succession sub-plot I most enjoyed in the first book). That's not to say, I didn't find myself saying "Who?" or "What?" but not nearly with the frequency of the first volume.
Ratings-wise, and much like Wolf Hall, this is a 5-star achievement. I knocked off a full star the first time around, for the occasional "sloggishness" and, to no fault of Mantel's, my own lack of knowledge which impacted the overall enjoyment. And while my experience improved on all those counts this time around, I still have ever so slight reservations. So, an unofficial 4.5 stars, but almost thanks to of the coolest book titles ever, I will give Bring Up The Bodies a worthy bump up to 5 stars.