Let's face it–history can be pretty depressing.
For one thing, the vast majority of people involved in history are dead. For another, quite a few of them came to sad and even gruesome ends. Take Lady Jane Grey, for example. Became queen of England in 1553, ruled for only nine days, got her head chopped off. And on top of that, the poor girl was only sixteen years old. Her beloved husband Lord Guildford Dudley met the same end, at age nineteen. If any historical event needed a heaping dose of good old-fashioned revisionism, it's this sad little anecdote.
Never fear. Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows are here to tell you what really happened–or at least, what happened in a far more fun and funny corner of the multiverse than this one. How about English history with a complex society of shapeshifters? And a YA heroine who doesn't want to be a heroine at all, preferring to stay at home with her massive book collection? And male lead characters who aren't total jerks? And a Tangled reference?
If that last one doesn't sell you on this book, I don't know what will.
The problem with My Lady Jane is that it's not marketed the way it should be. Here's the synopsis, per Goodreads:
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 is about to become the Queen of England.
Aaand that's pretty much it. Yawn. Stop trying to hide fantasy and hilarity under a bushel basket, Harper Teen. And I like the cover, but you could at least have put a horse next to Jane and shoved a few books into her arms.
Let me tell you what My Lady Jane is really about. Yes, all that stuff about the conspiracy and Jane becoming queen is true. But then there's the shapeshifter element I mentioned earlier. Roughly half the human beings in this version of medieval England are each able to turn into a particular animal. These people are called Ethians (a different symbol is used in place of the “th” in the book, but I don't know what it's called or how to get my keyboard to do it, so let's just go with the phonetic spelling). The three authors build on this premise to create something that has little or no historical accuracy, and isn't remotely sorry about it.
So here's a more thorough synopsis: King Edward VI of England is dying, and without an heir to take his place. The only person eligible for the throne is Lady Jane Grey–his cousin, his best friend, and an inveterate bookworm. But of course, a woman cannot be the sole ruler of England, so Jane will have to get married. The good news is, there's a candidate–Lord Gifford Dudley, a young man of unusual habits but sound character. The bad news is, he's a horse. Well, half the time, anyway.
Do not read this book if you are seeking reliable historical education. By all means read it if you want to cheer up and laugh your head off.
I don't have anything to put in the “stuff I wasn't so fond of” column on this book, so instead, I'll talk about the main things I loved:
- The characters. The book features quite a few POV characters, and they're all awesome. Each one has a distinct personality and unique, engaging traits. Jane and Gifford, in particular, are delightful. Jane is a heroine for every young woman who loves to read. Gifford is a hero for every guy who likes to write. (Also for every guy who is cursed to spend his daylight hours in the form of a horse, though I'm not sure how big that target audience is.) Together, Jane and Gifford are pretty much the perfect couple. They don't wallow in angst, and their romance is never tiresome.
- The backdrop. It's not just the alt-history-with-shapeshifters concept that sets My Lady Jane apart, it's the way that premise is developed. Too many fantasy novels fall into the threadbare trope of pitting one-dimensional magic-hating villains against equally one-dimensional magic-using heroes. The conflict between Ethians and ordinary humans in this book is more complex than that, leading to political intrigue and unexpected twists. The presence of heroes and villains on both sides of the aisle provides welcome shades of gray. (No, that wasn't a pun. Unless you want it to be.)
- The humor. This is one of those books that has you laughing out loud on every page. Sometimes more than once on each page. It's a “feel-good” story. It's not really a big spoiler to say that My Lady Jane has a happy ending. It's the kind of book you know will end that way as soon as you read the first chapter. As in a P.G. Wodehouse or Terry Pratchett book, the enjoyment comes not from wondering if the characters will get a happy ending, but from wondering how the author will bring about the inevitable happy ending. And the path to My Lady Jane's cheery resolution is brilliant and full of surprises. There's plenty of suspense, but nothing truly dark or unpleasant.
A few quotes, in case you're not convinced yet:
“He wanted to tell her she'd have more room if she'd just get rid of her books, but he supposed that in her case, it would be like telling a mother she'd have more room if she threw out her children.”
“The worst part about waking up when the sun went down was the distinct grassy taste of hay in his mouth, an unfortunate side effect of actually having hay in his mouth.”
“‘But why did no one tell her about the horse . . . situation?'
Dudley shook his head as if the issue was entirely unimportant. ‘I’ve found that women do not need to be burdened with such minor details.'”
“She had a lot of practice unknitting things. She could unknit entire wardrobes. You’d imagine that lots of practice unknitting would mean lots of practice—and improvement—knitting, but your imagination forgot to account for Jane.”
Content Advisory: A smattering of mild profanity, a few slightly off-color references and a tastefully-written “fade to black” scene (in which the participants are married). The book is suitable for teens, and younger kids could probably enjoy it as well with a bit of parental guidance.
In short, My Lady Jane is a literary pleasure that you should not deny yourself one second longer. Buy it now. Read it. Then read it again so you can discover all the funny lines you missed the first time around.
And ladies, when you get engaged to a guy, be sure to ask questions if you smell hay on his breath.
My Lady Jane is available on Amazon in ebook and paperback editions. The authors (collectively called “The Lady Janies”) have two sequels in the pipeline, entitled My Plain Jane (coming Summer 2018) and My Calamity Jane (release date TBA). Read more about these brilliant ladies on their website at ladyjanies.com.