At the center of Sandra Byrd’s historical novel, The Secret Keeper (2012), are Kateryn Parr, the sixth wife of Henry the Eighth, and her lady-in-waiting Juliana St. John, who has a gift of prophecy. The secret keeper—keeper of secrets—of the title is Juliana, and one of the secrets she keeps is that of Kateryn’s steadfast belief in the Protestant doctrine deemed a grave threat to Henry’s England. A reformist like Kateryn can be spooked and even terrified. One like the preacher Anne Askew is severely persecuted. It is an environment more “Christian” than Christian, and yet devoutness is everywhere in this sphere.
There is much to be said here for the writing and the characterization. So many incidents take place, though, that the novel leaves your head spinning, but it did not leave me bored. It may surprise no one that the fact of death Byrd has ample opportunity to present—and without being depressed by it. She knows all about the true church against which the gates of sheol will not prevail.