Before we left for Disney, I went into a little bit of a book panic. I was looking to figure out what I’d bring with me for the trip and realized I had absolutely nothing that wasn’t heavy and/or (mostly and) depressing. I have a VERY large book collection that is TBR, but it’s full of topics like the Holocaust, Japanese WWII POWs, Death and the Civil War, and various other horrible, heavy, awful things. Because that’s the kind of history I’m drawn to. Take that for what you will.
Anyway, the point is – none of it is kid-friendly, nor does it seem like appropriate reading for a week at the happiest place on earth.
And so I begged, needled, and cajoled Jim into a last-minute stop at the bookstore after our weekly date night dinner (the bookstore is usually something we do separately, since I could happily spend hours in there just browsing, and he’s more of a goal-oriented book shopper).
Well my aimless content browsing brought me to this gem.
The cover originally is what attracted me to it, but when I read the inside flap I was a little confused. And also a little excited. Because, from my perspective, this book could go one of two ways: it could be confusing and strange and awful, or it could be, hands down, one of the best things I’ve ever read.
Ultimately, I decided to take a chance.
And guys? I’m so glad I did. As a historian, everything in my gut tells me that this kind of revisionist premise shouldn’t have worked. But it did. It totally did. It was entertaining, and clever, and just plain fun.
My Lady Jane reframes the turmoil of the Tudor succession and the English reformation as a conflict not between Catholic and Protestant, but between the magical and the unmagical. It also takes a young female figure who is largely portrayed in history books as a tragic, powerless pawn of the English political game and gives her a voice. Gives her strength and agency and pluck as she fights not just for her own happily ever after, but for a happy ending for everyone she cares about.
And guys, this was just SO. MUCH. FUN.
The writing is witty and clever and funny, and at no point does it take itself too seriously. It pokes fun at itself as it uses common tropes and over the top plot devices, and in doing so makes the ridiculousness of the story entertaining instead of annoying. Throughout reading I couldn’t help but draw parallels to The Princess Bride (book and movie), because it’s got that same sort of self-aware, inching towards parody feel to it.
Honestly, the only even borderline negative thing I can say, is that in retrospect (mild spoilers ahead) I kind of feel a little bad that Mary I ends up vilified again, particularly when they’re already throwing history out the window so heartily. Generally when the English Reformation is dealt with in popular culture, Mary I and the English Catholics end up vilified while the Protestants are cast as the “good guys” – when in reality the whole thing was much more nuanced and complicated and more about the dangers of radicalism than anything else… but that’s just kind of one of my “things” after having spent a lot of time on the English Reformation in grad school and personally finding Mary I to be kind of a tragic figure herself. But even with that said, this book handles it reasonably well, and by recasting the conflict in the manner that it does, actually (I think anyway) keeps the focus a little more on the dangers of radicalism and the power-hungry instead of just presenting it like “them bad, us good.”
That said, one of the overall charms of this book was that it wasn’t supposed to be heavy enough for that kind of criticism. It’s blatantly stated that the goal here was to take the real history – which is heavy and tragic, and horrible in many ways – and basically throw it out the window to tell a much more pleasant, much lighter, and much more frivolous story. And that’s exactly what it does. Even the text itself makes sure not to take itself too seriously – it breaks the 4th wall several times, effectively reminding the reader that, “hey, we’re just having fun here, hope you are too.” If we’re speaking candidly, it’s been a long time since I enjoyed a book as thoroughly as this for no other reason than I had fun reading it.
In summary: OMG SO MUCH FUN.
Overall Rating: 5/5
Would Recommend to: Anyone. But be sure to go into it expecting fun fiction, not real History or any serious allegories for it. You won’t find them. Special bonus recommendation points if you enjoyed The Princess Bride (book or movie – doesn’t matter which).
(PS – Happy Valentine’s Day!)