My Lady Jane
Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
I picked up My Lady Jane hoping to fill a few hours with something quick and humorous (which it is!), but let me officially announce that I’m declaring this book historical canon. That’s one of the powers bestowed upon me as a book blogger, right? I’m pretty sure that’s how this works.
The comical, fantastical, romantical, entirely (but not really) true story of Lady Jane Grey.
Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown. . . .
Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than in romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended. . . .
Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.
The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?
My Lady Jane involves some of my favorite things, including:
- Humor (from both the characters and the narrators)!
- Shapeshifters (of multiple species)!
- A nerdy heroine (who isn’t passive)!
- A badass girl who bucks gender stereotypes!
- Men realizing sexism is stupid!
- Strangers who initially don’t like each other, but are forced into a partnership!
But it also had a couple (in my opinion) notable flaws:
- Jane did and believed some things that felt weirdly out of character for her (or at least, weren’t explained well enough to make them seem reasonable), and as a result, she didn’t feel as fleshed-out or as well-written as I wanted her to be.
- The primary conflict starts out strong (so strong!), but is very poorly developed and presented throughout the remaining three-quarters of the book.
It ultimately felt like a quite clean draft: fun to read, but incomplete and shallow.
If you’re looking for an enjoyable and not-very-serious historical fantasy, read this book; just don’t expect a solid or well-written plot. Focus on the character relationships, enjoy the lols, and be prepared to possibly forget the entire book a few days or weeks later.
Praise Section: Tiny spoilers
Criticism Section: All the spoilers
No lie, I laughed so often while reading this book, my husband (the most mild-mannered person you’ll ever meet, Hufflepuff proud) gave me multiple exasperated looks from across the living room. Multiple. It’s a record for him, and should say something about how successful the book’s humor was (for me, at least).
Take this snippet from page two, just after King Edward’s doctor (named Boubou) informs him that he’s dying of the Affliction:
(Yep, I snorted again when rereading it.)
Don’t mind me, I’m just in love with how this book handled misogyny. The narrators acknowledge the misogyny very early on:
But they don’t continue to make excuses for Edward’s (and other male characters’) misogyny as the story progresses and those characters are confronted with just how intelligent, capable, and equal women really are. This is how I like to see misogyny portrayed: as an awful social norm that can be (and is) unlearned by one or many characters over the course of the story.
An Active (Nerdy) Heroine
Jane may be bookish and unsocial, but she is not passive. If you think her first response to learning she’ll be married off to a stranger in a few days is to freeze or submit or hide, you’ve got another think coming. This girl sets down her book (carefully, because it’s precious) and acts. And she continues to act throughout the story, and rail against those men who believe a woman can’t or shouldn’t try to act on her own behalf.
The synopsis already told you what the conflicts are:
- A young king saturated in political intrigue, trying to establish an heir who can prevent civil war (and wholesale human-vs-Eðian slaughter) from destroying his kingdom after his death,
- Two strangers—one of whom has a pretty damn big secret, and neither of whom initially like the other—forced to marry for the good of their kingdom.
Both conflicts had me fully engaged at the beginning, and although I think the first conflict falters along the way, the second one is executed and concluded very satisfactorily. Two thumbs up.
Unfortunately, the book fell apart for me in a few crucial places.
Jane’s Character (Sometimes)
As much as I enjoyed Jane’s brand of intelligent snarkiness, there were a couple moments here and there where she morphed into what I thought was an unrealistic caricature of an ultra-naïve, brainless child. Because it only happened a couple times, I won’t complain about it at length—but those moments really snapped me out of the story, because come on, Jane, you’re better than that.
The Pack is a One-Dimensional Disappointment
A quarter of the way into the book (an important point in terms of story structure), readers are abruptly introduced to a marauding group of wolf-shifting Eðians known as the Pack. I immediately assumed they’d play a fairly significant role in the book to come, as a secondary villain of sorts—and I was kind of right, kind of wrong about that.
Here, let me just list out my complaints about these guys.
- Their introductory scene is surprisingly yawn-worthy for a group that’s supposed to be terrorizing the entire country:
- All they do is kill a cow belonging to some faceless, nameless peasants whom we (and our heroes) have never met before, and who aren’t important to our heroes or the plot,
- Our heroes are physically too far away from the hunt to do anything about it, much less interact in an interesting way with the Pack themselves (e.g. be attacked by the wolves, engage in a witty argument with the human-shifted Pack members, etc.),
- The peasants whose cow is killed mostly just grumble “This sucks” to themselves afterward, and then carry on with their lives, which doesn’t make for a particularly emotional scene.
- The Pack feels like an unfinished, amorphous blob of a plot contrivance that was belatedly added to the story, because we learn almost nothing about them:
- What horror stories about the Pack circulate among the normal human population?
- How, exactly, have they made the kingdom suffer (other than “people are going hungry because the Pack is killing livestock”)?
- How are they organized (beyond just “there’s a Pack leader”)?
- Etc., etc.
- They serve three primary roles, none of which are integral to the overarching plot(s):
- They prove to Jane that not all Eðians are good,
- They give a secondary character her backstory,
- They keep our heroes occupied for a little bit during the book’s second act.
If you were to take the Pack out of the book entirely (or replace them with normal, hungry wolves), the story’s climax and conclusion wouldn’t have changed a bit. Which is super weird, considering they were (clumsily) set up to be something of a secondary villain in the story. If you ditch the Pack, the only major changes in the story would be that (a) it’d have more (much needed) page-space to devote to developing the primary conflict, and (b) the secondary character’s backstory would need to be tweaked (which would be super easy, since her backstory doesn’t affect the story).
Just to be clear, though, I don’t want to ditch the Pack. I want them to be a little more fleshed out, a little better integrated into the overarching plot, a little more interesting and engaging.
The Quest is an Unnecessary Waste of Time
Perhaps the Pack’s worst offense is dragging the plot to a screeching halt by introducing a pointless quest to waste the heroes’ (and reader’s) time.
See, Edward’s trying to raise an army, and decides to start by asking the Pack to join his cause. In response, the Pack’s leader kicks back with a smirk and says, “Go kill this random mythical creature (the Great White Bear, which has absolutely nothing to do with the story and has never been mentioned before now—page 381 of 491) and sure, we’ll join your army.”
So Edward and G kill the Great White Bear, and then—that’s it. The quest isn’t mentioned again, and it/the bear’s death literally changes nothing about the story or the world at large except that the Pack will now help Edward. (And, as mentioned above, the Pack’s help doesn’t seem to actually be needed in the final conflict; remove them from the story entirely, and nothing changes. So, uh, I’m glad we wasted so many pages reading about that quest.)
Although the conflicts started off strong, things started falling apart about halfway through, leaving me feeling like I was reading a rough draft—or even, at the end, an outline—rather than a fully-fleshed novel. I’ll blame this at least in part on some weird, poorly handled time jumps between chapters.
1. A minor example: GIVE ME IMPORTANT SCENE FOLLOW-UPS
After Edward and G miraculously find and kill the mythical beast for the Pack’s leader, what do you think they do? Maybe confront the leader and prove their success? Perhaps they get to enjoy watching the vicious leader’s expression change when he realizes they succeeded, and he’s now on the hook to uphold his end of the bargain?
Ha ha, no.
Rather following up their nearly disastrous hunt with a resolution scene that’d give them (and readers!) a sense of both accomplishment and closure for that particular mini-conflict, they exchange a few boring words with our other protagonists (along the lines of “We’re not injured, don’t worry,”) and then the next chapter, told from Edward’s point of view, begins thusly:
I shouldn’t have to tell you that watching Edward drool over a woman is significantly less interesting and enjoyable than the vision I’d had of watching the Pack’s leader eat his own words.
2. A better example: GIVE ME IMPORTANT PLOT DETAILS
An even more offensive time-skip happens in the rush to the climax, when the heroes abruptly jump from (a) begging for military assistance in France, to (b) commanding a multi-nation, multi-species army camped outside of London mere hours before Things Go Down. Information we aren’t told about this accomplishment include, but are not limited to:
- How large the army is,
- What kind of troops it consists of,
- Anything at all about the army, actually,
- How much time passed during the time-skip (which, reasonably, would have spanned anywhere from several weeks to a few months),
- A single damn thing that happened during that time (which, reasonably, would have been a lot).
I realize the authors might’ve wanted to skip events to speed the climax along, but come on. I’m not expecting whole chapters devoted to marching troops into position, or whatever. Just give me a few details here and there to make it feel like this faceless army didn’t poof into existence a few hours before it’s needed.
Such a dearth of information undermines the significance of the “we and our country are doomed unless we scrounge up an army” aspect of the conflict—an aspect which takes up pretty much the entire final third of the book. If the army was important enough to spend a third of the book discussing and raising, it should also be important enough to tell readers a few measly details about.
3. A major example: GIVE ME IMPORTANT CLOSURE INFO
So we’re in the climax; the battle is raging outside the Tower of London, while our heroes are on the inside, facing off with their opponents. Of course, our heroes (being inside the Tower) can’t provide us with info about the battle outside, and that’s fine. The conflict comes to a head inside the Tower, and our heroes (spoiler!) triumph. Edward reclaims his throne, and immediately hands it off to his elder sister, Elizabeth.
Now, what do you think the next scene (not even the next chapter, just the next scene) is about? If you said some resolution of the climax, hopefully involving some info about the battle, or the armies, or our heroes’ allies, or the aftermath of battle, etc., the joke’s on you.
That’s right. The book once again skips over some pretty important conflict-resolution information in favor of showing Edward pining after a woman. The book’s resolution focuses entirely on the characters’ romance subplots.
Do we ever learn what happened in the battle? If there were significant casualties, or how it ended? Do we ever see the leaders of the allied forces, perhaps bonding with our heroes over good food, or being thanked for their help and their troops’ sacrifices?
No. From the moment our heroes start to infiltrate the Tower of Londen in the climax, the armies and the battle disappear from the story entirely.
That’s kind of a lie; we do hear two things about the battle:
- The Pack’s leader was killed by an arrow very early in the battle,
- Edward’s love interest fought very well in it, and is now the new leader of the Pack.
And no, we don’t learn any more details about either event than what I just told you.
I’m not expecting chapters of tedious descriptions about the aftermath of the battle, but not mentioning it at all is so weird. Just a few lines or a couple paragraphs in the resolution would suffice to hammer home both the scope of the conflict (it involved multi-nation and multi-species armies, for heaven’s sake; that’s big) and its consequences (which, realistically, should also have been big).
I’ve seen a number of reviewers say oh, it’s just a funny little historical fantasy thing, readers shouldn’t take seriously, and give it five stars. But, uh. I’m a grump. And, sure, this book succeeds at being funny and diverting—but it could’ve been funny and diverting and better-written, with some additional tweaking. So, three stars from the grump.
That said, I really do wish this version of events was true.