Review: My Lady Jane

Title: My Lady Jane

Author: Cynthia Hand, Brodie Ashton, Jodie Meadows

Publisher: HarperTeen

Published: June 2016

Genre(s): YA, historical fiction, fantasy, romance, supernatural, humour

Synopsis (via goodreads.com):  

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.
So... I loved this book. I didn't expect to, as Lady Jane's infamous nine-day reign as queen is not a happy-go-lucky tale. But that's only because boring, "fact" obsessed historians have written about her thus far; left to the imaginations of Cynthia Hand, Brodie Ashton and Jodie Meadows, we are able to read about Lady Jane in an alternate... England (?) wherein her tale is much more exciting, fantastical, and well-rounded.

I think you'll know if this is book is for you merely by reading the dedication:
For everyone who knows there was room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door.
And for England. We're really sorry for what we're about to do to your history.
Basically, three writers with similar senses of humour got together and decided to re-write the fate of one of England's most heartbreaking historical figures. Cynthia Hand had always felt an affinity towards Lady Jane Grey as she was a rebellious women for being well-read, and was ultimately a pawn in a game of thrones (I know!) that left her without a head.

I, myself, started giggling on page 3 when Edward, upon learning of his imminent demise, started imagining the ballads that would be written about the untimely death of their young king:
Poor King Edward, now under the ground. /Hacked his lungs out. They've yet to be found.
The writing is fun and goofy, but also heartfelt and takes a stab at the unfortunate plight of women, as well as the huge class disparity [during this era], whenever possible. It's historical fiction with cheeky hindsight, if that makes sense. Instead of Catholics vs. Protestants, we have the "Verities" vs. "Edians/ shape-shifters." The prologue explains that King Henry VIII was firmly behind persecuting the shape-shifters until he discovered he changed into a lion whenever he flew into a fit of rage (which history DOES tell us was often), consequently changing his stance to one of shape-shifter acceptance. This angered the "Verity Church" in Rome, but every time they sent a missive to denounce the decree, the Lion King ate the messenger.
      'Hence the phrase, Don't eat the messenger' (xi).

This one line basically sets the tone for the entire book. This is not to say that our authors don't take Jane's initial (and very real) circumstance seriously:
    "Your majesty, please reconsider," Lord Dudley pleaded. "Your position will be much stronger with your husband as king. The people will see it as a sign of strength - " 
     She took a deep breath. "They need signs of my strength, not my reliance on the men around me" (214).
I have to give a shout out to Uppercase Box (A Young Adult monthly subscription box). Not only did my copy of My Lady Jane come signed by all three authors, but also with access to "exclusive content" from the authors, depending on where you are in the book. You can learn how they came together to write MLJ, but also their take on certain characters and other reoccurring themes throughout the novel.

Finally, while I did enjoy this delightful romp through an alternate history, it was very sobering to read, at the end of the authors' Acknowledgements Page, them thanking, "the yeoman at the Tower of London who talked to us about Jane and ran up Beauchamp Tower to make sure we saw both places where Guildford  had carved Jane's name" (494).

It's amazing that such a short (and I mean SHORT) time in England's history would grab Hand's attention and imagination so thoroughly. But aren't we glad it did, and that she knew just the right people to help her tell this alternative tale. 

 ~ Spinning Jenny

P.S. If you're interested in learning more about Lady Jane, there was (to my recollection) a really good movie called Lady Jane (1986) starring a very young Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes. 

It was 1538 and John Lambert [real-life Protestant martyr burned at the stake for heresy] had been outed as an Edian when, after hearing Frederic Clarence had written a pamphlet denouncing Edian magic, he turned into a dog and ate the papers, prompting Clarence to cry out, "That dog ate my scriptwork!" (277) 

 [Edward and Gracie practising fencing]
Edward: "Take that, you beef-witted varlet!"
Gracie: "Who are you calling beef-witted?" she laughed at him. "Your mother was a hamster, and your father stank of elderberries!" (300). [Taken from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I KNEW there was I reason I heard this line in John Cleese's voice!!]

[Bess to Edward] "I know Jane is dear to you," Bess said. "I also know that she's in danger. But Jane is one person, Edward. There are thousands of lives at stake. There's a  kingdom on the edge of a knife. We must tread carefully" (313).

"You're wrong," Lord Dudley said. "You've always been a fool."
"The fool thinks he is wise," G retorted. "But the wise man knows himself to be a fool" (457).

[One of many allusions to Jane's intellect]
... she was pleased her demure stature was finally good for something. It was an advantage at last. A boon. An asset. A virtue - She stopped herself from continuing her synonym spiral. There was work to do (441).

[Playing on a famous quote from Mark Twain]
"I am not dead" argued Edward. "There are nefarious villains who would have you believe I died. But any accounts of my demise have been grossly exaggerated, I assure you, for here I am, very much alive" (453).

Gifford's first attempt at a poem inspired by Jane:
Shall I compare thee to a barrel of apples?
Though art more hairy, but sweeter inside.
Rough winds couldn't keep me from taking you to chapel,
Where finally a horse could take a bride...

And on that note, I bid you all adieu!
Many thanks for your patronage!


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