The Secret Keeper is the second of Sandra Byrd’s Tudor era books. While the first book, To Die For, provides a refreshing take on Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, The Secret Keeper follows the story of Henry VIII’s last wife, Kateryn Parr.
Juliana St. John is a young lady gifted with prophecy, and the book opens with a disturbing vision whose meaning she cannot interpret. Through the offices of Thomas Seymour, Juliana becomes a lady-in-waiting to Kateryn Parr and follows her mistress in the journey from being Lady Latimer to becoming the first lady in England.
As Juliana learns to navigate the court, Kateryn navigates her own treacherous waters as the wife of a fickle and unpredictable monarch known for disposing of his queens. A learned woman, Kateryn promotes the Reformation as much as she can but is sometimes forced to hide her inclinations to avoid the king’s displeasure. Juliana meets a dashing young man at court, and in between her duties to the queen, finds time to cultivate this interest.
After the death of King Henry, the story continues with Kateryn Parr’s marriage to Thomas Seymour and the events surrounding them and the young princess Elizabeth who would later become queen. Juliana learns the meaning of the prophecies that are given her and finds a way to intervene to stop evil from occurring.
It took me around a hundred pages to really become absorbed in this book, but once I passed that point, I could not put the book down. Sandra Byrd’s brilliance lies in the way she constructs the plot as the story following the central fictional character to intertwines with and thematically mirrors the stories of known historical characters.
One stock scene in many historical novels is rape–every author seems determined to show how poorly women were treated way-back-when. I was intrigued by the way Sandra Byrd dealt with this topic, however, delving into the question of what responsibility, if any, should be laid at the door of a woman who is assaulted. Without being preachy or anachronistic, she weaves an important lesson into the story and shows us a charitable view of the young Elizabeth, a woman who is often accused of enticing Thomas Seymour.