Saturday, June 24, 2017
BOOK REVIEW: My Lady Jane by The Lady Janies
TITLE: My Lady Jane
AUTHOR: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, together known as The Lady Janies
GENRE: historical fiction (emphasis on the fiction), fantasy, comedy
PLOT SUMMARY: Lady Jane Grey is a sixteen-year-old girl who has just been betrothed very much against her will to Gifford Dudley, AKA, G. (Did we mention G turns into a horse against his will? The people-turning-into-animals thing is pretty common in this world. They're called E∂ians, and used to be prosecuted... until it came out that Henry VIII was one. Henry quickly made E∂ians full citizens, and a certain girl who will one day be known as Bloody Mary isn't exactly fond of that fact. In fact, a lot of people aren't -- these people are called Verities.) Jane likes nothing more than to spend her days reading, and she certainly has no plans to become Queen of England. But, thanks to a plot to steal her cousin Edward's throne, that's exactly what's about to happen. Now, you may have heard that Lady Jane Grey was only Queen for nine days before being executed. But our narrators see no reason why historical fact should interfere with a perfectly good story...
FIRST THOUGHTS: Historical revisionism has never been so much fun. This book is quite a bit longer than my usual fare, but I flew through it. It's great fun, not to mention hilarious; it's even better if you actually know a bit of the history of the House of Tudor. (Hey, Showtime's finally good for something!) I normally have trouble with historical fiction, but this proved to be an exception. Which may not be surprising, since the narrators outright admit they're chucking history directly into the trashcan for this one. I'd best describe it as "The Princess Bride" meets "The Tudors." With a bit of "Monty Python" thrown in for good measure.
THOUGHTS ON PLOT: This plot has a little something for everyone. Political schemes, arranged marriage, betrayal, persecuted fantasy creatures, storming the castle, and, of course, teenage girls getting married to guys that turn into horses. It's very fast-paced, starting right when Edward finds out he's dying, and proceeds to wander all over history, occasionally stumbling over something that actually happened, but mostly doing it's own thing. And honestly, that's for the best. Even if you ignore the whole E∂ian thing, this is not historically accurate by any stretch, but it's a very funny "what could've been" tale. Like I said, the story moves very quickly, but never so much so that you lose track of what's going on. (It changed some people's names for the sake of the narrative, which helps -- I swear, historical nobles only seemed to have 10 or 12 names to go around.) It's also very addicting. I finished it in barely a week. And once Jane became queen, things got so interesting, that I finished the book that same day.
8 / 10
THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: The main players of this book are Jane, G, and Edward, and the narrative cycles through which one of them is getting the focus at any given time. All are very likable leads (Edward less so, at least at the beginning), and all of them undergo a remarkable amount of character development. The characters also have fantastic chemistry and banter with each other, especially Jane and G. As much as they bicker and clash at first, you're rooting for them as a couple right from the beginning. My favorite character was, naturally, Lady Jane herself. She's clever and capable, but naive and inexperienced in a way that makes her very relatable. She sticks to her principles and can argue like hell, but she has a softness about her that allows her to be vulnerable at times, allowing the reader (and the other characters) to get to know her. My one real complaint with the characters is how simplified Elizabeth and Mary were. It's true that Elizabeth was, by most accounts, intelligent and reasonable, and Mary was vicious and ambitious, but I felt like the narrative reduced them down to mere cardboard cutouts of their historical reputations. They served their narrative purpose, and they were both decent enough characters, but I would've liked to see more depth.
8 / 10
THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: The Lady Janies are all very good writers. I've never read anything from them before, but I hope this work is an indicator of their usual standard. The narration is hilarious and anachronistic, rife with references to everything from Shakespeare to Game of Thrones to The Princess Bride. It's also a very self-aware novel. The characters aren't aware of how ridiculous this all is, but the narrators very much are, and it's all the better for it. The prose isn't too complicated or too bare, and it gives you just enough actual historical fact to get yourself situated before it punts historical fact out the window. This is one of the few books that's actually made me laugh out loud -- and I think you will, too.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: Okay, so it probably won't come as a shock that there are no POC characters to speak of -- the main characters, are, of course, English royalty from the 1500s. POC don't get mentioned at all, nor does the queer community. Not surprising, since this is supposed to be lighthearted, and the general sentiment towards minorities at the time was... unfavorable, to say the least. Even the Catholic vs. Protestant conflict that led to Bloody Mary getting her nickname is mainly rewritten to be E∂ians vs. Verities. The one political issue this story does touch on is gender politics. Edward is, naturally, rather sexist, at least at the start -- a large part of his character arc is him getting over himself. G and Edward are both essential to the plot, but it's mainly the likes of Bess, Mary, Gracie, Gran, and, of course, Lady Jane pushing the plot along, which is nice. Also nice is that all of these women are very different people, and none are stereotyped -- or shamed for their interests by the narrative. Jane is a "proper lady," and that's fine, but Gracie is a tomboy who spends her time in men's clothes, and that's fine, too. (Of course, certain people in-universe would beg to differ.) There's also a nice little subversion of the "woman scorned" stereotype with Mary, Queen of Scots. (Who is woefully underused in this book, but awesome when she does show up.)
6 / 10
FINAL THOUGHTS: Highly, highly recommended, especially if you're looking for something light and fun. I'd be eager to see this book get made into a film (or perhaps a miniseries), and I'm especially eager to see any future books The Lady Janies put out together. I've never read anything from any of them before, but if this book is any indication, they make a fantastic team, one I hope to see produce many more stories in the future.
FINAL GRADE: 7.25 / 10
Have you read "My Lady Jane"? If so, tell me what you thought down in the comments! If not, tell me some of your favorite historical fiction -- accurate or not.
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