Thursday, 3 August 2017

Off with Her Head! (My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows)

'"The very instant I saw you, my heart flew to your service," he said.
"No," he admitted, "But it's a good line, am I right?"' - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, My Lady Jane, page 391

Lady Jane Grey was sixteen years old when she became Queen of England. Her reign came to an abrupt end nine days later, when Mary I assumed the throne. Mary, who is remembered for her merciful soul, later had her beheaded.

This is not what happens in My Lady Jane. The novel is very open from the beginning with the fact that it is an alternate history. One with a happy ending and rather a lot more magical powers. The two rival religions of the Tudor period - Catholicism and Protestantism - are replaced with Verities and Edians. Edians can transform into animals. Verities would like to see all Edians rounded up and burnt at the stake. Our heroine's story begins when she is betrothed to Gifford Dudley by her cousin, Edward VI. There's just one tiny thing that he maybe should have told her - Gifford can only take human form at night.

Jane loves reading. She's a highly educated young woman with strong opinions. She has grown up with stories about Edians and, unlike the Verities who believe that they are all monsters, makes the mistake of putting them up on a pedestal. Gifford is a fun character, mainly because he carries around his quill during battle scenes and writes down good lines that he wants to remember later. Edward VI is written as a clueless teenage boy, which makes sense given the circumstances. Elizabeth I is, of course, the good queen (or princess, I suppose). There's also Gracie, who is completely out of place in a Tudor setting, though maybe she wouldn't be given her personal circumstances? I suppose we don't know how female petty criminals lived or behaved in the Tudor era. Still, I had issues with her characterisation and with the way everyone else reacted to it.

I loved the scene where Edward and Gifford went off to fight the bear, because it was the first time we saw them interact without the girls around. Usually in YA, it's the women discussing the men. Here, we have the men discussing the women. And they're so so awkward with each other. Mainly because of the misunderstandings. This book has so many misunderstandings romance-wise. I enjoyed Jane and Gifford's romance, but not Edward and Gracie's. Edward's a bit of a brat, there's no way to sugarcoat it, and I suppose that's not his fault given that he was raised to be king, but I felt like it made him read badly as one half of a potential romance. It didn't help that Gracie - being a trouser-wearing pickpocket from Scotland - read as a gender-flipped bad boy for the traditionally brought up English king. 

(Side note: England and Scotland were usually at odds at this point in history. Case in point, Elizabeth I had Mary Queen of Scots beheaded.) 

I've seen many reviews describing it as hilarious. I found it zany, but I didn't laugh out loud very often. I suspect that all the hype is the reason that I find myself feeling a little underwhelmed by My Lady Jane. One of my main issues with this story was the narration. Not the writing in general, just the bits where the narrators cut in to explain things to the reader. It was irritating at times, especially during the climax when they just would not stop interrupting. First, they wanted to tell us that anyone could die, then they wanted to assure us that they hadn't killed a certain character. It killed the suspense. 

My Lady Jane gives an often overlooked figure of the Tudor period a happy ending. It didn't blow me out of the water, but I do think it was worth the read.

Do you have a favourite historical period?