My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand
Reviewed by Chau
If you’re familiar with Lady Jane Grey of England, also known as the Nine Days Queen, then you may already know of her fate. If you’re not, then her nickname should tell you exactly how long she lived after she was crowned Queen.
But if you’re up for some alternative history and some fantasy, then the novel “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows might be a fun read.
King Edward VI is dying, but he’s only sixteen and is rather occupied with the fact that he hasn’t kissed a girl in his entire life. When John Dudley recommends a possible heir to the throne to Edward, the firstborn son of Edward's cousin, Jane Grey, is brought up. But Jane isn’t married, and Dudley conveniently has an unmarried son, Gifford Dudley. And so their marriage is settled.
If you’re wondering what the ‘fantasy’ part in this novel is, this is it: Gifford is a horse from sunrise to sunset. More specifically, he’s an Edian (pronounced eth-y-un). Edians are people who have the ability to switch between a human form and an animal form, but this ability is often uncontrollable. Many thought that Edians are abominations and should be erased from society, and these people are known as Verities. There are a lot of tension between the two groups, so a pro-Edian ruler is needed.
However, Edward’s upcoming death is more complicated than just being sick, because a conspiracy is being carried out right under his nose to claim the throne. Edward, Jane, Gifford, and their allies must do something before all is lost.
To be frank, the plot is probably not the most captivating thing that’ll leave you breathless and gasp in surprise like a fantasy young adult. It’s quite simple and linear: Jane and Gifford do this, Edward does that, and the gang does another thing. There is little at stake, even though the entire book is about usurping a lot of people. I don’t think this is the authors’ faults, because this book’s central focus seems to be humor and changing history, rather than gripping tension. It’s a price to pay when you want to make the readers laugh, I suppose. In general, however, I still think they manage to tell a great story with a proper set up and climax. The romance subplot is done quite well too—simple but effective.
The novel has a casual, conversational writing style that connects you to the story and characters, and I believe its succinctness helps to deliver the comedy aspect of the novel. Since what you read is mostly the characters’ thoughts and action, don’t expect any great similes or fancy words (except when Gifford is involved, sometimes, and I don’t want to spoil this part).
Also, “My Lady Jane” has one of the most awesome lines I’ve read (slight spoiler warning):
“Poor King Edward, now under the ground. Hacked his lungs out. They’ve yet to be found.”
“Wife #3 (Edward’s mother) had done everything right; namely, she’d produced a child with the correct genitalia to me a future ruler of England, and then, because she was never one to stick around to gloat, she’d promptly died.”
“When his lady received the news, he hoped the king would tell her he died of a bear bite. Not because the bear essentially sat on him.”
The main characters—Edward, Jane, and Gifford—are all brilliant, well-rounded people. Or rather, teenagers. When you read the book, it will be very obvious that they’re teenagers and young adults, all pulled into an insidious plot against their wills. Edward worries about kissing a girl, about throwing balls, about traveling the world before the kingdom’s welfare enters his mind thanks to Lord Dudley. Jane and Gifford’s reactions to an arranged marriage go as well as one would expect in an arranged marriage: they don’t really like each other at first, and there are plenty of miscommunications. Other minor characters and villains are interesting, and all are important to the plot in their own ways. Sometimes, though, the characters’ personalities tend to blend together due to similar narrative voices, and even if I don’t blame the authors, I thought they could’ve created more distinctive voices between our three main characters.
Honestly, I love this book. It has an uplifting, funny, and innocent feel to it. The characters are lovely people and I kept smiling at their interactions while reading. They may seem too childish at times, considering they were all nobility and—in Edward’s case—a king, but I think that’s the charm of the story. In today’s standard, they were children and young adults. The book appeals to that inner child inside all of us. Also, one other thing I love is that every character is important in someway, minor or not. If you know their name, then expect that they will play a role in the future plot. Even Edward’s dog ends up being essential to his survival.
It’s interesting how the authors use the tension between Verities and Edians to represent the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism back then. In the story, Mary is a Verity so Edward doesn’t want to appoint her Queen; while in reality, Mary was a Catholic and Edward didn’t want her to reverse his Protestant legacy. Maybe the authors don’t want to bring up any religious conflicts, or maybe it’s a plot device for Jane and Gifford’s survival. Either way, I think they did a good job building a world with fictional animal-human citizens.
If there is one weakness of the book, it’s that you don’t quite feel engaged to the plot. Even though the stake is made clear in certain situations, nothing feels tense because you don’t expect things to go wrong. And things didn’t go wrong much, to be frank. It’s like you watch a comedy film because you know precisely that no one will die in the end. I also thought that a few emotional scenes could’ve been written in a more serious tone to create some depth to the story and characters.
All in all, “My Lady Jane” is a fun read. If you just finished a, say, heavy fantasy series of five novels, and are currently suffering through the what-do-I-do-with-my-life-now feeling, then this book might be right for you. It’s light-hearted, simply presented, and can be a refreshing change. Or if you’re not quite ready to be invested in a long series, this standalone novel will be a great addition to your reading list.