Overview: My Lady Jane
When you think of English queens, who comes to mind? Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II are probably at the forefront of your mind. Maybe one of the Marys if you were a casual student of history. How about Queen Jane? What, never heard of her? Chances are you haven’t unless you’re British or really into history. She’s obscure because she only ruled for nine days, between King Edward VI and Queen Mary I. Elizabeth I succeeded her Protestant-hating sister Mary and is widely regarded as the country’s greatest monarch. So, why write a YA novel about this lesser-known queen? My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows puts a comical fantasy spin on the doomed queen’s tale.
Edward VI is dying from “the Affliction”–tuberculosis–and that’s not his only problem. His sisters, Mary and Bess, are diametrically opposed to one another on a certain issue: the magical E∂ians. E∂ians are humans who can shape-shift into animals and face persecution until Edward, Mary, and Bess’s father, King Henry VIII, revealed his lion form during one of his rages. Henry worked to reintroduce acceptance of E∂ians in society but died before he could make any serious change. Mary is a Verity, virulently anti-E∂ian. Bess is virulently anti-Verity since her mother, Anne Boleyn, was also an E∂ian. No matter who Edward picks as his successor, it will lead to bloodshed. And besides, women can’t rule a country! Luckily, his adviser Lord Dudley offers a solution: Edward’s cousin Jane could marry Dudley’s son Gifford, and their male offspring could succeed Edward! Since both Gifford and Jane have E∂ian blood, they can produce an E∂ian heir and finally prove to the country that E∂ians aren’t dangerous low-class monsters. Edward begrudgingly signs an updated will with this stipulation, much to cousin Jane’s chagrin.
Mary is a Verity, virulently anti-E∂ian. Bess is virulently anti-Verity since her mother, Anne Boleyn, was also an E∂ian. No matter who Edward picks as his successor, it will lead to bloodshed. And besides, women can’t rule a country! Luckily, his adviser Lord Dudley offers a solution: Edward’s cousin Jane could marry Dudley’s son Gifford, and their male offspring could succeed Edward! Since both Gifford and Jane have E∂ian blood, they can produce an E∂ian heir and finally prove to the country that E∂ians aren’t dangerous low-class monsters. Edward begrudgingly signs an updated will with this stipulation, much to cousin Jane’s chagrin.
Jane is a bookworm who loves to learn about offbeat topics like beet farming. She’s had previously failed engagements and considers herself cursed. To her shock, she and Gifford are successfully married days after Edward’s decision. Gifford is handsome but a reputed philanderer, and proves to be a drunk at the wedding reception. In the morning, as Jane is giving Gifford a piece of her mind, he stuns her by turning into a horse. Every day, Gifford–who prefers the nickname “G”–frolicks in the meadows, only returning to his human form at night. Jane, having done plenty of research on E∂ians, resolves to help train her husband to control his transformations. The awkward newlyweds set off on their honeymoon and witness the Pack, a gang of lawless E∂ians, harassing a peasant family. Jane decides to help the family, but also sees how the Pack fuels prejudice against E∂ians. The couple discusses how they will tackle these issues when Jane is coronated, only to have their honeymoon interrupted by news of Edward’s death.
In actual history, Jane rules for nine days before Mary and her army come knocking on Jane’s door. Jane and Gifford are swiftly executed, and Mary puts tons of Protestants to death for their beliefs. It doesn’t quite go that way in this re-imagining, but you’ll have to read it to find out what happens next.
I love historical fiction, especially about the Tudors, and when I saw that My Lady Jane was a farcical take on Queen Jane’s story I knew I had to read it. This isn’t a dowdy historical fiction novel full of courtly language. It’s rather informal with frequent asides from the authors describing why they’re being anachronistic. There are plenty of little jokes and quips scattered through each page. All in all, this is a fun, light read, perfect for a lazy beach day.
This also has its downsides, as the characters can lean towards the one-dimensional, and there are all the usual YA tropes that are overdone and tired, such as insta-love between a few characters. There also isn’t too much suspense or whatever suspense there is gets resolved too quickly. The characters rarely seem to face a threat they can’t easily overtake. I’m not a fan of long, drawn-out battle scenes, but characters should have to go through more than just one roadblock to achieving their goal.
The authorial asides are a bit overdone at some points. At the end, you just want to find out what happens without the authors interrupting every few paragraphs to remind you how much you wanna finish the book but they have to remind you of this other thing. The jokes were cute but cheesy, more mental ha-ha than laugh-out-loud-pee-your-pants ha-ha. I liked the twist on the Catholic vs. Protestant Tudor clash being painted in magical terms. The feminist message of Jane and Bess being intelligent, capable female leaders was also awesome, and something we need more of, but there was also a moment where a certain marriage prospect for Edward is described as “plain” as if plainness is the worst attribute a woman could have. Please, can we stop making plainness a fatal flaw, especially in literature with a feminist message? I feel like so many books have a feminist leaning but with a little star on the bottom that women of worth have to be beautiful. It rubs me the wrong way.
My Lady Jane was a fluffy read with a fantasy-history bent that was good enough for one read, but not something I’ll read again.
Rating: 3 out of 5 executioners