Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Sharon Reviews: The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath

Today Sharon Bennett Connolly has the unique opportunity to review a book that has only come out this week. The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath is a fascinating historical novel set in Tudor England. The author has kindly offered a paperback copy as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous story, simply leave a comment below of on our Facebook Page.
The winner will be drawn on 9th August 2017. Good luck! 

A powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows tells the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England's most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.

When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband.

Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London.

The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.

What a treat! 
Carol McGrath's latest book, The Woman in the Shadows is a fabulous fictional account of the life and times of Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII's famous - some would say notorious - adviser.  It is an enjoyable, thoughtful story which gives the reader an insight into life in Tudor London, in general, and in a Tudor household in particular. Following Elizabeth from the funeral of her first husband, through her widowhood and new love and marriage with Thomas Cromwell, this is not the story of Henry VIII and the Tudor court, but of the 'ordinary' people without whom the Tudors would not have been able to sustain their glamorous court.

Written in colourful, vivid language that draws you in from the first page, The Woman in the Shadows is a wonderful novel, full of life and imagery. And, of course, the fact I could find no picture of Elizabeth Cromwell - only ones of Thomas - serves to highlight how little information we have about the ordinary Tudor woman. Carol McGrath's novel gives us a rarely seen insight into everyday life of the non-aristocratic family in Tudor London. However, if you were expecting melodrama, this book is not it; adventure and mystery are given equal billing, with murder, arson and secrets, ambushes in dark corners and some strange, scary personalities making this an exciting story which is not to be missed.

Cromwell's rise to power at the Tudor court runs parallel with his family concerns, with the arrival of children and Elizabeth's own business adventures. His mysterious past - as a soldier and adventurer in Italy - is alluded to and even comes in useful. Carol McGrath does an excellent job of portraying the enigma that is Thomas Cromwell; the courtier, soldier and statesman who is also merchant, husband and father. The characters are brought to life in vivid, vibrant detail, creating a tableau that is hard to forget even once the last page has been read.

For several hours, I spoke little and ate sparingly. Father went about the hall speaking with merchants. I wondered how I would manage but knew I must and would. A chair scraped beside me, jolting me out of my thoughts. I felt a light touch on my elbow and glanced up. The feast was ending. My merchant had left his place. Gone to the privy, no doubt. Instead, Father stood by my chair, with Master Cromwell by his side.
'Lizzy, Master Cromwell is my new cloth middle-man. He would like you to show him your bombazine cloth. He has admired your mourning gown.'
I started. This was nothing new. Father always employed different cloth middlemen to sell his fabrics to Flanders, thinking each one better than the last but today, at my husband's funeral it was not seemly. Master Cromwell was watching me through eyes of an unusual shade, not quite blue or grey.
He bowed and said, 'Forgive me for staring, Mistress Williams, but you see I knew you as a child. Your father used our fulling mill in Putney.' He smiled at Father.
That was why he was familiar. I stared back, and in a moment or two I had recollected a tough, wicked little boy, some years older than I, who taught me to fish in the river with a string and a hook with a wriggling worm at the end of it.
'I do recollect you, Master Cromwell. We played together as children,' I said, feeling my mouth widen into a smile. 'Father sent your father our cloth to be washed, beaten, prepared and softened for sale. I remember climbing trees and stealing apples. You led me astray.'

Elizabeth Cromwell herself is a wonderful, strong character, facing the prejudices of the merchant class and her own family in order to take some control over her life. And The Woman in the Shadows will make you want to know more Although a history buff would know what is to become of Cromwell and Elizabeth, the author cleverly manages to avoid inserting any hindsight into the story. If you don't know what becomes of the characters, you will soon be scouring the history books for the true story.

Carol McGrath's wonderful novel transports you through time and space to the streets of London and Northampton at the height of Henry VIII's magnificent reign. With colourful, vivid imagery she recreates a world and its people which has been otherwise lost through the centuries. The city, the characters and the lifestyle have been brought back to life, recreating the vibrant world in which Thomas Cromwell would eventually rise to be the king's chief statesman. The story follows Elizabeth's life; her family, her business and her husband, cleverly demonstrating how these are affected and changed by her husband's inexorable rise to power.

The attention to detail is phenomenal, showing many of the social conventions of the time, while not detracting from the story, nor making the reader feel like they're in a lecture on social history. It paints a fascinating tableau of merchant life in Tudor London, portraying the struggles and successes facing a widow trying to keep her business going in a man's world. Rich in detail in every aspect, Carol McGrath's meticulous research has produced a novel which plunges the reader into the middle of Elizabeth's household in Tudor London. From funeral and marriage arrangements, births and christenings, to the contents of a Tudor garden and the conduct of the cloth trade, The Woman in the Shadows acts as a window into Tudor merchant society.

If you liked Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall you will love The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath.. It shows the human side of the Cromwell family and is a treat for any lover of historical fiction, and especially for a fan of Tudor history. It is a novel not to be missed, and which must be devoured for both the meticulous detail and the wonderful story - especially the story.

About the author: Carol McGrath has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing from University of London. The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 was shortlisted for the RoNAs in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this best-selling trilogy. The Woman in the Shadows, a novel that considers Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, through the eyes of Elizabeth his wife, will be published on August 4th, 2017. Carol is working on a new medieval Trilogy, The Rose Trilogy, set in the High Middle Ages.  It subject matter is three linked medieval queens, sometimes considered ‘She Wolves’. She speaks at events and conferences on the subject of medieval women, writing Historical Fiction, The Bayeux Tapestry, and Fabrics, Tapestry and Embroidery as incorporated into fiction. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference, Oxford in September 2016 and reviews for the HNS.  Find Carol on her website: The Woman in the Shadows is available to purchase at  

About the The Reviewer: Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years.
She has studied history at university and worked as a tour guide at several historic sites. She has lived in Paris and London before settling down back in a little village in her native Yorkshire, with husband James and their soon-to-be-teenage son.
Sharon has been writing a blog entitled 'History...the Interesting Bits' for a little over 2 years and has just finished her first non-fiction work, 'Heroines of the Medieval World'. The book looks at the lives of the women – some well known and some almost forgotten to history – who broke the mould; those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history. It is due to be published by Amberley on 15th September 2017. It is now available for pre-order from Amberley, Book Depository and  Amazon.
Sharon can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I love to read about the people behind the big names, such as Thomas Cromwell. In stories they get a mere mention. It would be terrific to read about the life that she lead before and after her husband's beheading. Souns as though she was an interesting, colourful woman.

  2. Thank you Sharon for this phenomenal review. I think those who enter the give away can contact me through my website email as well as leaving intent here so we double check this. This way I have an email to send the winner notification and get their address. I am not sure how you do this bit these days. And thank you for the comment Chevy.

  3. My website is

    1. Sorry Carol, was sure I'd put that in. Will do it now. Best wishes, Sharon

  4. Sounds quite interesting. I love good historical fiction, and Thomas Cromwell is receiving a great deal of attention lately. Telling his *wife's* story, which comes before the Cromwell story most of us know, is genius. I look forward to reading it.

  5. It sounds wonderful.

  6. This sounds like another fabulous book from Carol, I love the three that I have, would love to have this book alongside the others

  7. I would LOVE to read this book!! This would be my introduction to the author.

  8. Tudor Era is one of my favorite!
    Would love to read this book :)
    Thank you for the great review and chance to win! :)

  9. Great review of Carol's latest book.

  10. *****DRUM ROLL PLEASE*****
    Firstly I would like to thank everyone for their interest in Carol McGrath's latest novel, The Woman in the Shadows. We had a whopping 40 entries for the prize draw. But unfortunately there can be only one lucky winner.
    And the winner is.... Buba Petreska
    Congratulations Buba.