To Die For by Sandra Byrd
The first of the Ladies in Waiting Series, this novel follows the story of Meg Wyatt, sister of Thomas Wyatt and best friend of Anne Boleyn. Beginning when she is a young girl, the novel follows Meg as she marries an older man, moves to court to be a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon, and later as she serves as Anne's Mistress of the Robes, following her Queen and friend to the Tower and the block.
A Little History:
|A portrait by Hans Holbein, thought to be of|
Margaret in her later years.
The novel involves many real life characters, such as Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, members of the Wyatt family, and, of course, Margaret "Meg" Wyatt. Despite Meg being a real person, the author notes that her character is not this particular Meg. However, there are a few similarities between the historical Margaret and the semi-fictional Meg.
The real Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, was born about the same time as Anne (around 1506), and was known to be a very close companion of the ill fated Queen. Her brother Thomas Wyatt, the poet, was also a close friend of Anne's. She did serve as Anne's Mistress of the Robes, and accompanied Anne on many important events, such as the 1532 trip to Calais, Anne's coronation, and even thought to have been on the scaffold during Anne's beheading. Legend has it that Anne gave Margaret her prayer book before her death with a message inscribed inside "Remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day."
When I first picked up this book to read I was a bit apprehensive. The title did not appeal to me much, nor did the cover art. However, I'm glad I lived by the saying "never judge a book by its cover" and read on. This novel is quite good, really delving into life at the Tudor court. I love that it is about Anne Boleyn, as she is my favorite Tudor, but not about her directly. It is told through the eyes of her best friend, Meg Wyatt. Meg is easy to relate to, and easy to like.
Anne herself is also portrayed as likeable also. Though she does, obviously, become involved in the politics and treachery of the day, it is really Henry who is the villain in the story. He is shown as overbearing and two faced. He is happy and jovial one second, and cutting off someone's head the next. I feel it is a fairly accurate portrayal of him, he who did not hesitate to get rid of those who did not give him what he wanted. Anne, however, is shown as gracefully, and really a victim of the times. Even in Henry's pursuit of Anne, she is portrayed as genuinely loving him, not as the scheming witch often shown in novels. I liked this, though felt at times it was a bit too sympathetic and slightly unrealistic.
Two things about this novel really struck me:
1) Sandra isn't afraid to bring real religion into the novel. She really explores some interesting questions as the main character, at times, questions her faith. I think it is a great way to really show what many during the Reformation, and even today, struggle with.
2) The execution scene. I have read many an execution scene in Tudor novels. This one got me. Being told from the point of view of one of Anne's ladies was an excellent way to go. Most who have read about Anne's execution know that she was quickly and quietly buried in an arrow chest after her decapitation by her ladies in waiting. However, reading it from a historical point of view, then reading it from a "witness" point of view is quiet different. As Meg and the other ladies gathered Anne and buried her remains, I felt sick to my stomach, much as Meg did. I had to hold back tears, thinking how shocking and traumatic that must have been for Anne's close friends. Can you imagine? I find it hard to. Props to Sandra for this gripping scene.
However, a few cliches did stick out to me; the overbearing father who doesn't hesitate to slap his daughter, the slimy suitor who Meg has to avoid at all costs, and the unrequited love of her childhood friend. Thankfully, these cliches didn't really detract from the story. They helped keep the focus more on Meg, rather than the "Great Matter," which often consumes these types of novels.
Overall, I give this novel Four out of Five Tudor Roses. It is a very good book, and very easy to read. I enjoyed it and would recommend. However, I caution that it does take a little background in Tudor History to really keep up with and understand a lot of the events in the novel. I wouldn't recommend it as a very first novel set in the Tudor period. This isn't a bad thing. Rather, I think it is a compliment that the author did her research and presented it in an intellectual manner. I really look forward to reading the next installment in this series.
For more on Sandra Byrd and her novels, please visit her website and like her on Facebook!
A big thanks to the author for offering a copy of her novel to me, as well as one for a giveaway!