The author of To Die For returns to the court of Henry VIII, as a young woman is caught between love and honor.
Juliana St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight in Marlborough. Though her family wants her to marry the son of her father’s business partner, circumstances set her on a course toward the court of Henry VIII and his last wife, Kateryn Parr.
Sir Thomas Seymour, uncle of the current heir, Prince Edward, returns to Wiltshire to tie up his business with Juliana’s father’s estate and sees instantly that she would fit into the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. Her mother agrees to have her placed in the Parr household for “finishing” and Juliana goes, though perhaps reluctantly. For she knows a secret. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one of her visions she has seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of the king’s daughter, the lady Elizabeth, to perilous consequence.
As Juliana learns the secrets of King Henry VIII’s court, she faces threats and opposition, learning truths about her own life that will upset everything she thought she once held dear.
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Although I tend to gravitate toward the 18th Century when I delve into historical fiction, the premise of Sandra Byrd’s The Secret Keeper was intriguing, and I delighted at the chance to join in the Secret Keeper Virtual Book Tour, sponsored by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. The lure of the royal court, prophecies and secrets was undeniable.
Sandra Byrd does a magnificent job of transporting her readers to mid-16th Century England, in particular to the court of Kateryn Parr. Her writing style is such that we as modern readers can comprehend the language of the characters, but she also inserts enough appropriately antiquated terms that the environment seems authentic.
While the bulk of the story revolves around the court of Kateryn Parr, the main character is actually Juliana St. John, a young woman who is brought into Kateryn’s court through her family’s relationship with Sir Thomas Seymour. Juliana, like several female Biblical characters, has the gift of prophecy that has allowed her to see remarkable visions, messages of events that are to come. Through this God-given gift, she is able to occasionally help others, but in incredibly crucial moments in time.
Juliana also has a bit of drama of her own. She experiences a horrific event, which changes her life seemingly forever. Miss St. John also has affection for one male in particular, and this also brings interesting aspects to her story. I found Juliana to be the most interesting character of this novel, as she seemed very real, imperfect, compassionate and brave. Her growth as a woman was evident throughout the storyline, and I enjoyed seeing her overcome some amazing obstacles in the eight years that are covered in the plot.
Certain Christian topics are a part of The Secret Keeper, such as prophecy, the English Reformation, the debate over scriptural accuracy and other issues. Sandra Byrd also states in a post-novel interview that she herself is a Christian. And it’s notable that certain adult concepts were handled in a realistic, yet non-gratuitous fashion. That stated, I would not pigeonhole this novel into the limited Christian Fiction genre. The church was a dominant force during the 16th Century, sometimes for ill as well as for good. The Secret Keeper is simply covering events that either did occur or easily could have occurred during that time period. Those not sharing the Christian faith could easily enjoy this novel, regardless of their religious persuasion.
Although I did appreciate much of Sandra Byrd’s choices in her storytelling, at times the recounting of events and goings-on within the court became confusing and weighty. The family trees included at the book’s outset were helpful, but I still found myself frequently trying to remember the identities of the litany of people within the story. Fortunately, the handful of main characters that were always near the forefront were easy to recognize and follow, and I did enjoy their contributions to the narrative. I’m not sure how the accuracy and veracity of the story could have been retained with some simplification, but if that could have been accomplished, I would have enjoyed this novel more overall.
That reservation aside, I find Sandra Byrd to be an excellent, well prepared writer who has clearly done her homework and cares about her characters. She plays with history just a bit, but never takes the story beyond what is reasonably plausible for the time period. I especially enjoyed the characters of Juliana, Kateryn and Jamie, and Sandra’s ending was so sweet and satisfying. If you’re looking for a bit of royal intrigue, spiritual wonderment, romance and adventure, The Secret Keeper would be a fine way to start off some quality summer reading.
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Sandra Byrd has published more than three dozen books in the fiction and nonfiction markets, including the first book in her Tudor series, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. Her second book, The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, illuminates the mysteries in the life of Henry's last wife.
For more than a decade Sandra has shared her secrets with the many new writers she edits, mentors, and coaches. She lives in the Seattle, Washington, area with her husband and two children. For more Tudor tidbits, please visit www.sandrabyrd.com.
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Secret Keeper Giveaway!
Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, I have two copies of The Secret Keeper to offer our readers! Winner #1 will win a new copy of the novel from the book tour, and Winner #2 will win my gently-read review copy. Be sure to read the guidelines below, enter via the Rafflecopter widget, and good luck!
- The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on July 8th, 2012.
- Contest is open to U.S. and Canadian entrants.
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