If you are the type of person who really wishes that history class could be livened up a little, the type who reads your textbooks and thinks up alternative endings to actual events, the type who wouldn’t mind chopping off a few heads that did NOT belong to the wives of Henry VIII, then My Lady Jane is for you. Especially if you are also amused by men who turn into horses at sunrise, a king who doesn’t actually shoot the messenger but eats him instead, and the mystery of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays finally being solved.
16-year-old King Edward Tudor is dying. But given that he has yet to have even kissed a girl, much less done anything that could produce an heir (bastard or otherwise), England is on the edge of turmoil. Moreso than even Brexit could cause, because not only is the land to be without a monarch, there is also trouble brewing between the Edian and the Verities. Or, those that can shapeshift into an animal form at will, and those that believe such a skill is an abomination. This is unrest on the scale of Henry VIII’s Catholic vs Protestant divide, but much more fun.
Edward’s favourite cousin is Lady Jane Grey. Practically raised together, the two are fast friends and understand each other completely. Edward knows Jane would rather read a book about the cultivation of beets in Eastern Europe than get married. She’d rather read a book about anything than do anything else, actually. She has spent her life avoiding social interaction on any level. But Edward needs an heir, and Jane is one of the few people he trusts. So he marries her off to Gifford Dudley, second son to a Duke and afflicted with an “equine issue,” proclaims her heir the Throne, dies, and Jane becomes Queen. Much to her dismay.
HO. LEE. CRAP. I have not giggled so much and so continuously in I don’t know how long. This book was recommended to me by Kim over at By Hook or By Book, and you need to visit her right away. She has fabulous posts on everything from book reviews to current events, and I lose hours perusing her site. She called this novel a cross between Monty Python, the Princess Bride (as you wish!) and Ladyhawke, and I cannot improve on that description.
This is a hilarious, laugh-out-loud, historical comedy. There is not one serious word in it, and when even an impending beheading can make you giggle, you know it is going to be good. It is full of mockery and jokes and puns and quips and plays on words that will have you snorting your proper English tea straight out of your nose.
The story behind the humour is backroom politics that would impress even today. Backstabbing and plotting and deal-making are apparently timeless pursuits. Not sure that it makes me feel any better, but at least we know it is an honoured practice. Then add in a battle of the sexes and a few budding romances, and you have an unbeatable plot.
Obviously, what makes this story so outstanding is the characters and their language. Edward’s obsession with a second opinion that he might like better than his diagnosis of death, his realization that maybe everyone was letting him win when they practiced swordplay and played games (he approves), and his acknowledgment that being king was maybe not the be all and end all that he initially thought were all done so smoothly and with so much humour. Jane’s desire to read and not be married to a horse is totally understandable, and her choice of frying pan as a weapon practical. And above all, Edward’s and Jane’s devotion to each other is written so wonderfully and believably, a deep abiding affection that doesn’t need humour to prop it up.
The secondary characters are as in depth and developed as Jane and Edward. I love that the authors do not make them farcical, but individuals in their own right, even when they shapeshift into skunks. Gracie and Pet and G and Bess and even Mary, Queen of Scots, are so alive and totally dominate their scenes. And Gran is friggin’ hysterical. Strong, opinionated, sarcastic, forceful and lovely, but hysterical. I think I might love her.
Coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows manage what I would have thought to be near impossible. Three authors, writing three different characters that flow seamlessly. They keep the humor constant throughout the novel, it never feels forced or contrived, and the thought of them writing together makes me picture three friends sitting with glasses of wine, throwing out ideas and laughing themselves silly far into the night. I absolutely adored the references to poems and stories and people and events throughout the novel, most of which won’t occur for the next hundred years or so. And the editorial notes throughout are as funny as the dialogue.
The novel might initially intimidate at 500 pages, but I flew through it in one sitting. It is impossible to put down. Take an evening, pour a glass of wine (or three), ignore the family, and prepare to laugh your a** off.
My Lady Jane was published June 7th, 2016 by HarperTeen.