Published 2012, Howard Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster, In., ISBN 978-1-4391-83124-4, ISBN 978-4391-8315-1 (ebook)

The Secret Keeper is the 2nd in Sandra Byrd’s historical fiction series, Ladies in Waiting.

Juliana St. John has a special gift, which could be regarded as a curse and have deadly consequences.  Therefore, Julianna must guard her secret carefully from those who would use it against her.  Her own mother, who lacks any obvious love for her daughter, might be her undoing.

Julianna has a close relationship with her confessor and reads as a lector.  Unfortunately, Henry VIII has once again declared possession of certain religious texts illegal and women are banned from reading or teaching Scriptures publicly.  Her confessor plans to leave for Ireland so he may serve in contradiction of Henry’s laws without risk of betrayal.

In Spring of 1542, Sir Thomas Seymour visits the church and listens to Julianna read.  He proposes to her mother that Julianna join Kateryn Parr’s household.  Kateryn holds progressive religious views and Sir Thomas, who shares a mutual love with Kateryn, feels Julianna would be a welcome companion for Kateryn.

Julianna departs reluctantly for Kateryn’s household, for she has reason to mistrust Thomas Seymour but cannot share the source of her misgivings.   Her unspoken, yet understood marriage, to her late father’s business partner’s son, Matthias, is on hold.  It is not the marriage her father desired for his daughter but, believing her mother wishes it, Julianna feels she must obey.

At a social evening, she is introduced to several of Kateryn’s household and gentlemen in Sir Thomas’ retinue.  She makes the acquaintance of Jamie Hart.  He shows interest in Julianna, but it quickly becomes apparent Jamie Hart is partial to ladies in general.  Nonetheless, Julianna suddenly finds Matthias pales in comparison.

Kateryn’s husband returns from Scotland in poor health and it is obvious he is not long for the world.  Meanwhile, Henry VIII extends an invitation to Kateryn and her husband to attend Court for New Year’s.  Julianna is included as Kateryn’s attendant.

The King visits Kateryn’s apartments and is obviously enchanted.  He bestows gifts upon Kateryn to her dismay and the consternation of her attendants.  It has been a year since his 5th wife, Catherine Howard, was executed.  Henry is on a quest for a new wife and Kateryn’s husband is terminally ill.

Kateryn’s husband passes away.  Her intent is to marry Sir Thomas.  Henry, however proposes to her and sweetens the pot with the elevation of her brother and brother-in-law.  Her siblings encourage to accept the proposal.  A marriage proposal from the king is tantamount to a royal command.

Kateryn marries Henry, even though she loves Sir Thomas, with the belief she can persuade Henry of the righteousness of reformation for the benefit of the kingdom and influence the religious education of his children.  While she fails with Mary, she does forge strong relationships with Edward and Elizabeth.

As with any royal court, spies and conspiracies are de rigueur.  Kateryn and her household must tread with great care.  There are those who oppose reformation and Kateryn’s views and willing to do everything in their power to thwart her, even unto death.

During this time, Julianna is the victim of a violent assault, one which will besmirch her reputation if it is made public.  Only her roommate, Dorothy, knows of the attack, which has left Julianna with little hope of ever bearing a child.

Julianna struggles with the aftermath and the belief she cannot marry because she is likely barren.  How can she marry a man who expresses hopes for heirs?  She cannot confide the loss of her maidenhood, especially to Jamie Hart whose attentions become pronounced.

Julianna witnesses, with despair and fear, Queen Kateryn pursue her support of reform and reformers to the detriment of her life and her attendants.  Kateryn’s open support of Anne Askew nearly ends her life.

Henry’s fickleness and marital history speak volumes.  As his medical condition worsens, so does his temperament.  Kateryn sets out to recapture Henry’s waning love.  Her life depends on it.

On January 28, 1547 Henry VIII dies.  The Seymour family quickly moves to capture regency on behalf of King Edward, aged 9.  Kateryn, who fully expected to be regent, is shunted away the young king.  She marries Thomas Seymour secretly 4 months after Henry’s death; a marriage not well received by the Seymour clan.

Julianna is battered by a friend’s betrayal, shocking secret revelations about her birthright, troubled times in the Seymour household and her love for Jamie but her inability to marry him.

Julianna is about to lose the woman who loves and treats her like a daughter, but leaves behind the responsibility of her orphaned child on Julianna’s shoulders.

Another secret burdens Julianna…..

I am enjoying Sandra Byrd’s Ladies in Waiting Series.  It is a lovely change to read about marquee characters from a different perspective.  Her heroines are engaging.  Julianna faces many challenges in association with her relationship with Kateryn.  She expresses dread and fear, emotions many authors neglect.  This imbibes Julianna with humanness.

To Die For (the first in the series) was a good read, but I found The Secret Keeper deeper in complexity, conflict and personal challenges.  Sandra Byrd is definitely finding her feet in the historical fiction genre.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars (Excellent)

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