The Mirror and the Light

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The Mirror & The Light
The Mirror and the Light (book cover).jpg
AuthorHilary Mantel
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesThomas Cromwell trilogy
GenreHistorical fiction
Publisher4th Estate (UK)/ Henry Holt and Co. (US)
Publication date
5 March 2020[1]
Media typePrint (hardback)
Preceded byBring Up the Bodies 

The Mirror & The Light is a historical novel by English writer Hilary Mantel. Following Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012), it is the final instalment in her trilogy charting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, minister in the court of King Henry VIII, covering the last four years of his life, from 1536 until his death by execution in 1540.

Mantel's twelfth novel, her first in almost eight years, The Mirror & The Light was published in March 2020 to widespread critical acclaim, and enjoyed brisk sales. In December 2020, Emily Temple of Literary Hub reported that the novel had made 13 lists of the best books of 2020.[2] It won 2021 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.[3]


The Mirror & The Light covers the period following the death of Anne Boleyn in 1536. It documents Cromwell's ascent to the pinnacle of his riches and power, followed by his fall from royal favour and his public execution at Tower Hill in 1540.


Though Mantel had originally hoped to publish the book in 2018, it did not appear until March 2020. Mantel dismissed speculation the novel had been delayed due to writer's block, distractions caused by stage and screen adaptations of her previous novels, or because she couldn't bring herself to write Cromwell's execution scene. Saying the project had simply been difficult, Mantel added, "But that’s not an explanation that has any news value, so people are looking for a dramatic story of the whole process breaking down.”[4]

When it was published in the UK on 5 March 2020, bookstores opened at midnight to sell the title. Initial UK sales were brisk, with over 95,000 copies sold in the first three days.[5] Henry Holt and Company published the US edition five days later, on 10 March 2020.[6]


The Mirror & the Light received mostly laudatory reviews from critics. The New York Times called it "the triumphant capstone to Mantel’s trilogy,"[7] the Financial Times called it "majestic and often breathtakingly poetic,"[8] and the Washington Post called it a "masterful finale."[9] The Times Literary Supplement called it "some of the most complex and immersive fiction to have come along in years,"[10] while the Guardian hailed it as a "masterpiece" and called Mantel's Cromwell trilogy "the greatest English novels of this century."[11] The Los Angeles Times called Mantel "unique among modern novelists in her ability to make the past as viscerally compelling as the present,"[12] USA Today said that "every page is rich with insight,"[13] and the Wall Street Journal called her Cromwell trilogy "a brilliant engagement with the exercise and metaphysics of power in 16th-century Europe."[14] However, the New Yorker criticised the lengthy novel (754 pages in its US edition), calling it "a bloated and only occasionally captivating work."[15]

The Mirror & the Light was shortlisted for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction.[16]

Stage adaptation[edit]

Like the preceding volumes, The Mirror and the Light has been adapted for the stage, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company with a script written by Mantel and Ben Miles. The play has opened at the Gielgud Theatre, London in September 2021.[17]


  1. ^ "THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT". 4th Estate.
  2. ^ Temple, Emily (2020-12-15). "The Ultimate Best Books of 2020 List". Literary Hub (in American English). Retrieved 2021-01-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ "Hilary Mantel wins 2021 Walter Scott Prize". The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  4. ^ Alter, Alexandra (2020-02-24). "For Hilary Mantel, There's No Time Like the Past". The New York Times (in American English). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  5. ^ Fisher, Luke (2020-03-10). "The Mirror and the Light shines with huge first-week sales". The Guardian (in British English). ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-03-12.
  6. ^ "Hilary Mantel's conclusion to Thomas Cromwell trilogy to be published in March". independent. Retrieved 2020-03-11.
  7. ^ Sehgal, Parul (2020-03-03). "Hilary Mantel's Triumphant New Novel Brings Thomas Cromwell Across the Finish Line". The New York Times (in American English). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  8. ^ Schama, Simon. "Review | The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel — 'majestic and poetic'". Financial Times. Retrieved 2020-03-15.
  9. ^ Smith, Wendy. "Review | 'The Mirror and the Light' is a masterful finale to Hilary Mantel's Cromwell trilogy". Washington Post. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  10. ^ "The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel book review - The TLS - Fiction". TLS (in British English). Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  11. ^ Merritt, Stephanie (2020-03-01). "The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel review – a shoo-in for the Booker prize". The Guardian (in British English). ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  12. ^ "Review: Curtains for Cromwell, as Hilary Mantel's glorious trilogy concludes". Los Angeles Times (in American English). 2020-03-10. Retrieved 2020-03-15.
  13. ^ Cha, Steph. "'The Mirror & the Light' review: Hilary Mantel brings Cromwell trilogy to a brilliant end". USA TODAY (in American English). Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  14. ^ Powers, Katherine A. (2020-03-10). "'The Mirror and the Light' Review: Thomas Cromwell's Final Act". Wall Street Journal (in American English). ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  15. ^ Mendelsohn, Daniel. "Hubris and Delusion at the End of Hilary Mantel's Tudor Trilogy". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  16. ^ "Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist announced". Books+Publishing (in Australian English). 2020-04-22. Retrieved 2020-05-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ "RSC's Mirror and the Light receives West End premiere in autumn". Retrieved 22 July 2021.

External links[edit]