In the 475 years since the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn, her story has been told and retold by countless historians and storytellers in attempts to exonerate and vindicate, or to further vilify. Contemporary writers have increasingly posited that the Queen was falsely accused and convicted through political maneuvering by her rivals at court; no matter what one believes, however, her story continues to rivet those who hear it.
But what of those who lived in the Queen’s shadow? While writers have shed light on some of the Queen’s most notorious family and friends, little attention has been devoted to others who lived in her orbit, whose lives were impacted by her triumphs as well as her downfall simply by knowing her. Sandra Byrd’s To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn tells the story of Anne’s rise and fall through the eyes of Meg Wyatt*, her childhood friend and lady-in-waiting whose own life also hangs on Anne’s favor with the king.
Meg Wyatt is in love with Will Ogilvy, the heir of a neighboring family and friend to the Wyatt and Boleyn families. When Will leaves for school with Meg’s brother Thomas and Anne leaves for the French court, Meg is left to care for her ailing mother, at the mercy of a controlling father and her sneering brother Edmund. Meg faces one disappointment after another from that point, including Will’s decision to take holy vows and her own marriage by proxy to the aging Baron Blackston. However, as Anne catches the eye of Henry VIII, she calls Meg to the English court and opens up a world of possibility to her.
All is not well for long, though, and as the reader travels through the familiar tale of Anne’s ill-fated royal romance the connection between her fate and Meg’s is sadly all too easy to see. While Meg visits clandestine reform meetings and struggles to retain her independence, Anne becomes ever more desperate to bear a son and keep the King’s love so that she can avoid the danger looming about them all.
While Anne’s fate is all too familiar, the success of Byrd’s story lies in Meg’s unexpected path to everything she thought she never wanted. Meg is such a vibrant character that she emerges from Anne’s shadow and takes her rightful place as the heroine of the novel; as such, the title could more accurately be “A Novel including Anne Boleyn, but really about Meg Wyatt” – and so much the better.
To Die For is an exciting and heartbreaking journey through one of the most tumultuous periods in the Tudor dynasty. Byrd’s clear and expressive writing style and her steady pace throughout give this book a priority place on the historical fiction shelf.
*Meg Wyatt’s real name was Anne, but was changed by the author for the sake of narrative clarity.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her fianc é and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, The Writer’s Closet, planning her wedding, and baking tasty gluten-free treats.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Howard Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.