“She loved the way that books could transport her from her otherwise mundane and stifling life and offer the experiences of a hundred other lives. Through books she could see the world.”
My Lady Jane was a wholly unique and fantastical sort-of-not-really true story about Britain’s shortest reigning queen, Lady Jane Grey. The 500 page YA novel was a one-of-a-kind work of fantasy, blending comedy, magic and history to create what I consider to be one of the best young adult romance novels I have ever read.
Lady Jane Grey is sixteen years old and about to be married off to a total stranger, thanks to her cousin King Edward VI. What Edward doesn’t know is that he has unwittingly put his closest advisor’s plans in motion to rob Edward of his own throne. Jane is about to become Queen of England and has to contend with ruling a kingdom on the brink of war, prevent her evil father-in-law from seeking more power, and somehow care for her new husband – who is a horse. Yeah.
Badass co-authors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows have rewritten the tragic tale of Lady Jane Grey and given it a vibrant twist, which only vaguely resembles actual history. This is the happy ending that Lady Jane Grey truly deserves … with a hint of magic along the way.
“He pretended to stretch his arms, in order to shift even closer to her. (This isn’t in the history books, of course, but we’d like to point out that this was the first time a young man had ever tried that particular arm-stretch move on a young woman. Edward was the inventor of the arm stretch, a tactic that teenage boys have been using for centuries).”
I did not mean to read this book.
What I mean by that is that when I had borrowed it from the library, I had no idea what the book was about. As I am a MASSIVE fan of British history, I had simply glanced at the title, ascertained it was about Lady Jane Grey, and promptly borrowed it. When I began reading the novel, to say I was confused would be a drastic understatement. Jane’s husband Gifford is a … horse? Um…?
After a few moments of confusion, I read the blurb in the front cover and could not stop laughing. What on earth had these authors done to my favourite period of history? In the end, I just shrugged and decided to read the book anyway, perhaps for a laugh. It never occurred to me that I might actually like this book and it certainly never occurred to me that I would love it.
My Lady Jane is the best book I have read so far, this year. For a while, that honour went to Peter Darling by Austin Chant, but, I’m sorry Peter, you’ll have to move over and make room for Jane.
The plot of My Lady Jane was such a distinct and exciting tale. This eccentric book had rewritten history to include a system of magic that featured shapeshifters. These shapeshifters were called the Eðians (don’t ask me how to pronounce that, I forgot), who, I believe, were symbolic of the Protestant faith. It did not escape my notice that this book completely disregarded and removed the violent struggle between the Protestants and the Catholics, which was a significant reason as to why Lady Jane Grey became Queen – over Mary, Edward’s sister – in the first place. Edward, a Protestant himself, needed a Protestant successor and could not chose his sister Mary, who was a volatile Catholic. Another reason as to why Jane became Queen was due to Edward’s advisor, John Dudley, who desired more power and took advantage of the failing health of Edward VI by marrying his youngest son to Jane, and convinced Edward to change the line of succession to accede Jane (Edward’s cousin) over Mary, who was next-in-line to the throne.
For those who don’t know their history, Jane ruled for just nine days before the Privy Council turned against her and proclaimed Mary the true Queen of England. Several months later, Jane and her husband Guildford where executed, under Mary’s order. She was 16, he was 19. This novel works as an alternate version of history, where the co-authors attempt to correct the tragic end to Lady Jane Grey’s life by giving her the Happily Ever After she deserved.
In My Lady Jane, Princess Mary abhorred all Eðians and wanted to burn them at the stake, as opposed to the Protestants she actually had burnt at the stake. John Dudley convinced Edward to name Jane his successor because she was a supporter of the Eðian race and would protect them. Edward did as he was told and so and accidently brought about his own doom.
“We’re going to live tomorrow, and for long after. We’ll have years and years to fight about everything you want to fight about.”
[G] made it sound like it was a desirable thing.
“I hope so,” Jane said. “I’ve been making a list.”
“I don’t doubt it. What shall we fight about first?”
The novels shifted between the perspectives of Jane, Edward and Gifford – also called G – who became Jane’s husband (yes, the noble steed). The POVs all felt very distinctive and individual, which must be attributed to the admirable writing. I could not pick up on any difference in writing styles between the three authors, and the writing flourished as a result.
I simply adored Jane’s character. The co-authors were very accurate in their representation of Jane in that she was a proficient reader, but they also kept in mind the societal expectations for women during the Tudor period. In the novel, and in real life, Jane could always be found behind a book, scandalous for that era; she was considered a humanist and an incredibly learned young lady, but she was still expected to know her place and rely on men to make the decisions that affected her.
I connected with Jane on such an emotional level, in part due to what I know about her from history, but mainly through her excellent characterisation. When the tense struggle scenes occurred, I only wanted to bundle her in my arms and protect her from the world (I know for a fact she would not have appreciated that). As the novel drew closer to July 19 – the day Jane was de-throned in real history – the faster my panic had set in. I could not have predicted how much I would come to care for Jane and I sorely wanted that happy ending for her, the one she was unable to receive in real life.
Jane’s husband, G, was an absolute delight, and such a poetic soul. He was very protective, loving, and hilarious. I looked forward to his comical chapters because I knew they would not disappoint. It has been a long time since I shipped a couple so hard and with all my heart, but I wanted G and Jane to get together from the very beginning. Their enemies-to-lovers romance (not true enemies, more antagonists) flowed naturally and realistically. I simply adore books that develop the romance element so well.
“I know I’m not inspiring much confidence at this point, but there’s something else I thought I’d bring up.” [Jane] lifted her eyes to him. “I love you more than I love books.”
G struggled with accepting Jane as his queen and ruler. For those like me who are powerful feminists, this continual issue could get a little dry, but we have to remember the period in which this book is set. G’s anger to Jane refusing to name him king is understandable; it also doesn’t hurt that all of the male characters go through a significant change in attitude regarding women; an awakening of sorts. Don’t let the issues surrounding gender roles get to you too much. The women of this novel, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Edward’s grandmother and Gracie, were the true heroes of the story.
At the beginning of the novel, I didn’t care much for Edward, but that was not his fault. After all, he was the King and had been raised to expect the world to fall in line for him. He could come across as quite sexist, a little rude and very naïve, but, by the half-way point of the book, I fell in love with him. It is almost impossible not to pity his circumstances and get angry on his behalf. I genuinely wondered how the co-authors would alter Edward’s storyline, and I have to say, it was the perfect end to his story. I don’t think any other happy ending would have worked as well.
To fully enjoy and appreciate My Lady Jane, you should not take it seriously. The novel is very self-aware and knows how ridiculous it is, but that is what makes it fantastic. Take it from a me, a hardcore British history buff. If I can enjoy this book, anyone can.
For those still on the fence, just look at the dedication: