Before anything, there are 2 notes for this book. One is that I listened to it via audio book, and it benefited from an amazing narrator. The narrator has several great accents and is not afraid to use them. His Bishop Woosley is immensely self satisfied, his HRE ambassador is wonderfully weaselly, and his Thomas Moore is delightfully snide and vehement. So, kudos to the narrator for making listening a continually enjoyable experience. The second note is that the book is *long*. I was listening to the thing on a daily basis for literally a month, and checked how to see how close the ending was. It had to be close, right? Nope, I was 45% of the way through. The combination of the ~700 pages and the narrator's languorous delivery make this a long term listen.
So, what is the book about? It is mostly competence and social-competence porn, about Cromwell and all the ways he is useful to people during his life. Imagine Kvothe from the _Name of the Wind_, but he is older and his polarity towards authority has been reversed. Instead of constantly rebelling and having to get the last word in, Cromwell takes his talents and turns them towards profit-making, efficiency, management, and serving nobles with just the right flavors of obsequiousness. This isn't as bad as it sounds; he is generally a force for reason, modernization, order, and mercy in a rather cruel and benighted age. He sees to his family and their futures, tries to not execute anyone who does not really need it, and is just generally a cool-dude in matters administrative and political. It is all fine, if a little stretched out. The author has nice patches of description and memory and dialog, and there are countless jaunts out into food, architecture, friends, associates, clothing, books, children, wives, religion, and a dozen other subjects. This does mean however that the words-to-plot ratio is low. Again, I enjoyed the slow ride due to the narrator, but I could easily see having the opposite reaction if I had actually read the book and was in a hurry. Also, due to the sheer length of the book the effect of the plot is attenuated; Cromwell gets his revenge on a person or two near the end of the book, but by that time the injuries Cromwell had suffered from them are a month ago in real time. And my reaction was like, "oh, yes, I vaguely remember that." In any case, it is not a particularly plot heavy book, it is more about a slow journey through an interesting fictional character's life.