Sunday, July 22, 2012

Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd/5 Stars

About the book:

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.

My thoughts:

While many of the historical novels and movies of late featuring the wives of King Henry VIII are nothing more than sensationalism, Sandra Byrd shows that historical fiction can be accurate and still entirely sensational in her latest book The Secret Keeper.  Sweeping through 8-plus years of court intrigue, royalty, and grandeur, Sandra tells the story of Kateryn Parr through the eyes of a humble lady-in-waiting, Juliana St. John.  Juliana's journey begins innocently enough, but hairpin turns are only a moment away, and what was once an exciting adventure to be included in the company of the Queen quickly becomes Juliana's duty to protect her from those who intend to discredit her.  She also does not count on shameful circumstances affecting her directly, and thus, charts a firm course for the remainder of her which, God has another plan.

Sandra's study of the Tudor period and Kateryn's life was intense, providing the reader not only with several family trees in the beginning, but an extensive author's note in the back detailing her meticulous research.  From the royal garments and stunning jewels to the actual letters and books used in conversation during that time, The Secret Keeper had a natural authentic quality that set it apart from other historical novels regardless of their time period.  As a reader, I paused several times to savor the rich language and dialogue that made up each scene.  This was not a novel that I wanted to race to complete, but one that grew sweeter with each and every page.

I have been so impressed with all of Sandra's books over the years, but historical fiction is where her talents shine the brightest.  Although I am anxiously awaiting her next Tudor novel about Elizabeth I, it comes with a hint of sadness that it will bring this series to a close.  And for a reader whose tendency is to never re-read a book, I have no doubt I will be making an exception *several* exceptions for Sandra's entire Ladies in Waiting series. 

5 Stars

**Many thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.
**Click here to read my review of Sandra's last historical novel, To Die For.


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