This time-slip novel tells the story of Cromwell’s Irish campaign. It is a well-grounded and well-researched book. It gives up-to-date references and online resources that would be very useful to students and teachers. The time-slip elements are imaginatively handled.
In a re-enactment of Cromwell’s attack on Drogheda during a school trip, 12-year-old Liam receives a blow to the head which catapults him back in time to the actual conflict. Accompanied by a mysterious girl, a magical horse and two protective adults, Liam escapes from Drogheda and moves through each town that Cromwell attacks. There are narrow escapes along the way. There are also brief meetings with Cromwell himself in which he is depicted as honest, wishing to avoid unnecessary slaughter of ‘innocent’ civilians. Liam is shocked at one point, in Kilkenny, when a traitor is executed, and looks forward to a time when the death penalty will not be the normal punishment. But the carnage perpetrated by the Cromwellian forces on the local populations seems to evoke very little shock.
The narrative seeks to underplay the horror and to evoke sympathy for Cromwell. In the Irish context, this simply does not work. When Cromwell makes a plea for understanding, saying ‘The truth is never black and white’ the irony is unavoidable. Truth was pretty black and white in his world. Of course, in at least one English political tradition, Cromwell is a great and heroic leader who challenged monarchy, who strengthened parliament and helped to lay the foundations of democracy. But that story is not told here.