Synopsis: Juliana St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight. 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 concerns with Juliana's father's estate and sees instantly that Juliana would fit into the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. Her mother agrees to have her placed in Parr's 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 undo everything she holds dear.
My Thoughts: As I have said before I love the Tudors but I have mostly read about Elizabeth and Henry VIII with a few books about Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard tossed in here and there. The Secret Keeper takes on the story of Kateryn Parr (6th and final wife of the corpulent King) as seen through the eyes of Juliana St. John who becomes Maid of Honour to the Queen. Juliana arrives at the household of Kate (then Lady Latimer) where she makes friends, tries to adjust, and soon becomes a close companion. When Kate catches the eye of the aging Henry, she has little choice but to agree to his proposal and when she leaves the household of her recently deceased husband to become Henry's bride, she takes Juliana with her. Through Juliana's close relationship with Kateryn, we get to see the real woman behind the obedient wife and nursemaid vision that we are used to seeing. Kate is highly intelligent, devoted to the new religion, and has an extremely generous spirit. Throughout the novel we see her constantly helping those in need, especially those who share her religious beliefs and are treated to the King's cruel brand of "justice" because of it.
There are many Tudor related books out there but Byrd puts an interesting spin on this one by giving Juliana the gift of prophecy. She is the recipient of dreams that give her glimpses into the future and one such dream shows a man cutting to shreds the dress of a young girl while she is held helplessly by another (Tudor aficionados will know what this is all about before it is revealed in the book).
I loved reading along as all the drama unfolded and this book covers a lot of ground-the decline of the aging King, Kate's struggle to mask her feelings for Tom Seymour and be a good wife while quietly advancing her religion, the aftermath of the King's death and the uncertain future of his heirs, the actions of the greedy grasping Seymours as they assert their control over the boy-king Edward, the unveiling of what Juliana's dream meant and the disastrous consequences, and the fate of Kate who was a genuinely good woman and friend to so many. I also liked the author's version of what happened to Kate's daughter Mary Seymour.
I do wish the romance between Juliana and the dashing Irish Knight Jamie Hart had been developed a little bit more. They seem to build quite a strong attachment for occasional short bits of time together when he returns to court from abroad-strong enough for him to drop everything when Juliana needs him. I did really enjoy this story and getting an in depth view of Kate Parr. What a fascinating woman! This is the second book in Sandra's Ladies in Waiting series (the first is To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn-see my review here). I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series!
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. These are my honest thoughts on the book.
And now for the giveaway! I have a copy of The Secret Keeper to give away to one lucky winner!
Giveaway is open to: US
To Enter: Leave your name and email address in the comments. One extra entry each will be given to for spreading the word by posting about the giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog.
Giveaway Ends: Midnight June 30th. Winner will be announced here on July 1st.