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.
The Tudors have been a lasting and prolific trend in current historical fiction themes and I have to say that I am ready to give them a rest. However sometimes a Tudor novel comes along that makes me curious and interested in reading it and that was the case with Sandra Byrd's The Secret Keeper. The fact that it was about Kateryn Parr (that's how the author spells it) and that the blurb hints at the relationship between Thomas Seymour and Princess Elizabeth was enough to grab my interest.
I am happy to say that I did enjoy reading it. The main character is a young woman - Juliana St John - who as recently lost her father and has a less than warm relationship with her mother. She is taken to live in Kateryn Parr's household by Lord Thomas Seymour. Juliana occasionally has prophetic dreams and the latest one she had is precisely about Seymour...
I did like Juliana; she was level headed, sometimes too eager to please but always friendly to everyone. She lives in a dangerous world though and is not immune to the bad things that occasionally happen to good people. She develops a relationship with Kateryn Parr that is similar to a mother / daughter relationship, and ends up following her from Lord Latimer's household to Henry VIII's court, as she becomes his last queen, and later on when she marries Lord Thomas Seymour.
I find that, in a general way, I am much more able to enjoy HF when the main character is a fictional one living in the real world than when it is a real person, especially if I already know something about them. Though Juliana's eyes we see Parr as a distinguished woman determined to fulfill her duty but also a woman of faith and a prolific writer who tries to influence her king and faces danger for her beliefs. She is much more than just the one who survived... I really enjoyed this outlook on the political and religious problems of the time; they were the perfect background to the story of Juliana’s growth, her friendship with the queen and her romance with a young gentleman of Lord Thomas Seymour household.
Sadly Parr’s love for Seymour makes her blind to his faults and easy to manipulate...as Juliana realises. Tragically Kateryn Parr dies less than a week after giving birth to her daughter from child bed fever. Whatever happened to her daughter is a bit of a mystery and Sandra Byrd's final twist gives us at least a very satisfying conclusion.
An interesting read with a fresh heroine and an intriguing plot that I would recommend even if you think you are done with the Tudors.