Saturday, June 1, 2013

Book Review: "To Die For" by Sandra Byrd

Meg Wyatt has been Anne Boleyn's closest friend since they grew up together on neighboring manors in Kent. So when twenty-five-year-old Anne's star begins to ascend, of course she takes Meg along for the ride. 

Life in the court of Henry VIII is thrilling... at first. Meg is made mistress of Anne's wardrobe, and she enjoys the spoils of this privileged orbit and uses her influence for good. She is young and beautiful and in favor; everyone at court assumes that being close to her is being close to Anne. 

But favor is fickle and envy is often laced with venom. As Anne falls, so does Meg, and it becomes nearly impossible for her to discern ally from enemy. Suddenly life's unwelcome surprises rub against the court's sheen to reveal the tarnished brass of false affections and the bona fide gold of those that are true. Both Anne and Meg may lose everything. When your best friend is married to fearsome Henry VIII, you may soon find yourself not only friendless but headless as well. 

A rich alchemy of fact and fiction, To Die For chronicles the glittering court life, the sweeping romance, and the heartbreaking fall from grace of a forsaken queen and Meg, her closest companion, who was forgotten by the ages but who is destined to live in our hearts forever.

This is the most highly recommended novel of Anne Boleyn for a good reason -- being written just in 2010 unlike timeless, but, unfortunately, outdated Jean Plaidy novels, all of its facts are up to date. "To Die For" by Sandra Byrd reads like an elegant, engrossing story, but has all of the fact of a biography. I believe the author wrote that much of the scholarly research of Anne Boleyn's most iconic biographer, Eric Ives, was presented in the novel. The book's only fictional side is its teller, Meg (Margaret Wyatt), Anne Boleyn's best friend. Not even this is entirely fictional; the Boleyns and the Wyatts were famously close families, and Anne gave Meg her prayer book while on the scaffold, which read: "Remember me when you do pray / that hope doth lead from day to day."

Meg's story is very tightly-interwoven with Anne's and so, even though it is mostly fictionalized, there are no great allusions from fact. In terms of historical accuracy, "The Other Boleyn Girl" and all of Gregory's novels bow down to it, but since only history buffs prefer accuracy to scintillating storytelling, in some areas of that department "To Die For" unfortunately falls flat. The book is a bit lacking in dialogue, which is often replaced by paragraph chunks to summarize the history. It is the difference between 'showing' and 'telling'. On the plus side, and believe me, this novel had many 'pluses', her character development is superior to that of nearly every historical writer. Her characters tell the story, they are all complex to the point that even the story's protagonist, Anne Boleyn, is not distinctly 'good' or 'evil' -- in that sense, "To Die For" is more like harsh but fascinating reality than any other Tudor fiction piece, out there and is probably the most suspenseful. Easy to read and with refreshing pulse, this Tudor master-piece is a must for everyone who calls themselves Anne Boleyn fans.

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