Posted By Claire on June 14, 2012
After having enjoyed Sandra Byrd’s first historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, I was looking forward to the release of The Secret Keeper, particularly as it was about my second favourite of Henry VIII’s wives: Catherine Parr.
The format of the novel is similar to To Die For, in that the narrator of the story is a lady-in-waiting. In this case, we see the events of the 1540s through the eyes of the fictional Juliana St John, who is chosen to attend Catherine (or Kate as she is known in the book) due to her family’s links with Sir Thomas Seymour. At the beginning of the novel, Catherine is Lady Latimer, but, as we all know, Lord Latimer dies and Henry VIII claims her for his final wife, despite Catherine’s love for Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Jane Seymour.
Juliana is happy serving Kate. She sees Kate as a mother figure and friend, and she loves the climate of religion and education in Catherine’s household. Juliana feels accepted and loved, something she has never felt at home with her real mother. Through meeting other women with spiritual gifts, she realises that she is not that unusual in having the gift of prophecy and that God has given it to her for a reason. However, she is ‘haunted’ by a disturbing vision of the Lady Elizabeth being restrained while her gown is slashed to shreds. What can it mean and is Juliana meant to stop it from happening?
Her time at court also brings Juliana love, but Henry VIII’s court is a dangerous place and Juliana finds herself attracting another man, a rather unsavoury character – will her hopes of true love be dashed? What about the Queen? How will Catherine survive the plotting of the conservatives who are responsible for the execution of fellow reformer Anne Askew? Nobody leaves court unscathed and her time there has a dramatic impact on Juliana’s life and her hopes for the future.
I don’t want to go into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the book, but suffice to say that this book tells Catherine Parr’s story, from the death of Lord Latimer to the execution of Thomas Seymour. However, it is far more than just a retelling of history because Byrd also tells Juliana’s fictional story. I love the way that history and fiction are intertwined and I got completely caught up in Juliana’s story, which is a tale of secrets, sacrifice and love. It actually moved me to tears! The reader just cannot help praying for a happy ending for the very likeable Juliana.
What I love about Sandra Byrd’s books is that they contain detailed author’s notes at the end. Byrd explains which parts of the story are fictional and why she wrote what she did. This means that there is no confusion. She also cites her “principal works of reference” so that readers can read more about the real Catherine Parr. The novel also contains a reading group guide to promote discussion.
This book was a joy to read. The characters were brought to life beautifully and my tears show just how well Byrd drew me into their lives and story. I heartily recommend it to both Tudor history lovers and historical fiction fans.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books; Original edition (June 5, 2012)
Available from Amazon.com – click here, Amazon UK – click here, or your favourite bookshop.