The Tyrant’s Shadow

Written by Antonia Senior
Review by Carol McGrath

This is a passionate, richly imagined story set during Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth in London, with scenes also in the New World and Germany. It is a world turned upside down by civil war and power struggles between the victors.

The narrative sweep allows an intense flavour of what it was like to be part of a mid-17th century family. Will Chandler, secretary to Oliver Cromwell, is an empty soul after his wife is killed on the day King Charles is executed. His sister, Patience, convinced that she must be a preacher’s helpmate, marries fundamentalist Sidrach Simmonds, a man determined to mould the Commonwealth according to extremist belief. Sam Challower, Will’s Royalist brother-in-law, returns from years abroad in exile. He is the catalyst who forces Will and Patience to query their loyalties and recognise what they really want. The third-person viewpoint moves among these three protagonists as the story progresses. They are layered personalities accompanied by a gallery of diverse, vividly portrayed secondary characters. Research underpinning the narrative is fascinating and seamlessly integrated into the story, and shines through its characters. They are individual and also of their times. As the story continues, they grow and change.

There are two tyrants in this novel and, indeed, The Tyrant’s Shadow is as much a thriller as an exquisite portrait of a 17th-century marriage. It is compulsively page-turning and highly recommended. Antonia Senior’s writing is concise, poetic and immediate. Every word is carefully selected so that every sentence is a joy to read. Her book reminds us of our human fragility and our strengths, and possesses a sense of universality that carries pertinent messages from a fundamentalist past into the world we inhabit now.