review by Maryom
Elizabeth Williams is newly widowed, after a love-less marriage arranged by her father. She's still young, has a head for trade and figures, and is determined to keep her independence by taking over her husband's cloth business. It's not an unknown course of action for a widow, but Elizabeth has opponents among London's cloth merchants and, closer to home, in her father who thinks she should do no such thing, but either let him merge the business with his, or marry again. An arson attack on her premises leaves her shaken but still firm in her intentions, though concerned that someone may have uncovered her late husband's secrets ...
Meanwhile, she finds herself attracted to Thomas Cromwell, cloth merchant turned lawyer, who represents a chance for both love and security.
I think anyone with an interest in historical fiction will be aware of the huge number of books out there set in the Tudor period, but most focus on Henry VIII's court, and, of course, his multitude of wives. In The Woman in the Shadows, Carol McGrath approaches the matter from a different angle - that of a woman from the merchant class, involved in trade both at home and abroad, seeing the noblemen and women of the court as potential customers for her finer stock but little concerned with their lives. Once she marries Thomas Cromwell her life begins to change - for Thomas is intent on furthering his career, and in Tudor times that means becoming involved with the court and its politics. If you've read, or watched the TV version of, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, you'll know what happens to him later in life, but here we're concerned with him BEFORE he became a major player on the Tudor political scene. Seen through Elizabeth's eyes, he's ambitious, a little too secretive, and definitely too radical in his views! Elizabeth is portrayed as a modest, religious woman, not wholly comfortable with some of her husband's ideas or his growing involvement with the movers and shakers of Henry's court. In one respect I wasn't comfortable with her outlook - along with no doubt many others at the time, she sees homosexuality as a sin, condemned by the church, and punished after death, but it's important to bear in mind that she's a Tudor woman with the attitudes and opinions of her time, and influenced heavily by the Church's stance.
The insight into everyday Tudor life is fascinating. From the details of Elizabeth's clothes, cleaning and decorating a house, to dressing up and celebrating feast days almost every aspect is covered as Elizabeth and Thomas go about their daily lives. It's also interesting to see that long before celebrity magazines the public were eager for news of the famous folk of the day - Henry's longing for a son, and his extra-marital affairs are pretty much public knowledge, and discussed eagerly among the cloth merchants' wives (and I suspect by their husbands too). All these details help bring the period to life, a living backdrop to Elizabeth's personal story.
You can also read a guest post from Carol McGrath talking about Elizabeth Cromwell and Women in Tudor Times here
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Accent Press
Genre - adult historical fiction