Synopsis: The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.
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.
Warning: This review contains some spoilers. I marked a biggish one, and I don’t think that any of them will impede your enjoyment of the book should you choose to read it, but (Taylor Swift voice) don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn ya.
When I first read this book, I didn’t really know what to rate it. I even slept on it before writing the review in the hopes things would be clearer in the morning. It wasn’t until I completed the original version of this that I realized I couldn’t give it anything over a one. You’ll see why.
But the thing is…I’ve never had so many problems with a book while not wanting, exactly, to give it one star. Usually I love slapping one star ratings on books – but that’s when I feel they deserve them. I wasn’t sure if this was of that type, but the sheer quantity of issues I had with it ensured that it was.
I did something I’ve never done before while reading this: I took review notes in the app on my phone. Why? Because I had so many things to say about it that I couldn’t be tied down to only writing when my notebook was nearby.
Let’s start with the characters. The main three, whose perspectives we read from: Jane, Gifford, Edward. Additional significant characters: Gracie, Mary, Bess. I’ll attempt to air my qualms in the order I just listed them. First, a bit of background info: this book takes the Catholic/Anglican turmoil that exists for, like, swaths of British history and turns it into magical animal shapeshifters versus non-magical animal shapeshifters. (Am I the only one who hates that? Like, correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like it’s trivializing deeply significant religious conflict, countless lost lives, and hm, I don’t know, the motivation for the support of religious freedom in the New World?!) I want this to be spoiler-free-ish, so I’ll just say we meet a lot of these heavenly-blessed-magical-beings (called Edians with a fancy d that I refuse to Google/copy/paste. Because I will never care that much).
First: Jane. Jane is naïve, stubborn, pretentious, and, often, has so little common sense it physically hurts. Her arranged-marriage-husband, Gifford (fifty percent of his personality is that he prefers being called G), is an Edian. One of her first interactions with him is her telling him that she knows more about Edians than he does. Cool! Later, when she sees a pack of wolves, she wonders, “Why were there people with the wolves? It made no sense.” Hm, I don’t know…MAYBE BECAUSE YOU F*CKING LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE MANY PEOPLE HAVE AN ANIMAL ALTER EGO?! Plus, she’s cutesy and I hate her for it. When our heroes are literally putting their lives on the line in mere moments, what’s the darling Jane’s reaction, the reader may wonder? Oh, just this: “She wrinkled her nose. ‘Armies aren’t very good about carrying libraries with them. I can’t imagine why. We’d fight so much less if everyone would just sit down and read.” Bleh, bleh, bleh-edy-bleh. Dialogue like that can give you a cavity. (Not only is it cutesy, it’s also because she really doesn’t have any character traits beyond liking to read. I mean, I’m as big a reader as the next guy, but that’s not all I’m putting on the table! Jesus.)
Gifford, on the other hand: no empathy, selfish, also dumb. At one point in the book, the husband-and-wife duo encounter a group of villagers whose lives are being ruined by a pack of Edians. He leaves them and forces Jane to leave them. Later, when Jane makes him go back, he just stands there
like an idiot, watching her tend to their wounds and pass out food. Not to learn what she’s doing or get a sense of how he can help. Of course not. No, G is watching because she looks hot. Jane is HAUNTED by their marriage, which they both were forced into, under the impression that he’s an asshole, a womanizer, etc etc. G is aware of these (false) perceptions and does NOTHING to dispel them. Ugh. More on their marriage later.
Edward just…sucks. He’s boring. At the beginning, he wants to marry Jane (his cousin), but gives her up to G because he’s dying. Later, he thinks, “Jane was like a sister to him, that kind of affection between them.” What? It’s like the first part of the book was a sitcom pilot and the rest of the season decides to go in a different direction. (Okay, yes, I’m thinking about The Mindy Project.) He’s also weak, powerless, helpless, synonyms. One point of this book is that Edward’s sexist philosophy is proven wrong…but during the 500 pages he gets help from the women around him COUNTLESS times. It’s exhausting. Like, take a hint, Ed.
Okay, smaller characters. Gracie literally APPEARS out of the f*cking English countryside to be Edward’s love interest. Since there are approx. 300 pages to kill from that point on, this side story takes forever for no reason. (It would have bored the living hell out of me if it were 20 pages.) Beyond Gracie’s glossy black curls, vivid green eyes, kissable mouth and darling brogue, she’s not given many traits. Mary is just a villain, and not even a good one. Bess spends the entire book helping out her brother – WITH NO MOTIVATION TO DO SO. The whole time I was hoping she would betray them or something. She dedicates her time and risks her life for a cause she has no reason to care about. (And her only character trait is “nice.”) So when the narrators referenced this group of crazy teens as “characters you’ve come to know and love,” I think you’ll understand why I laughed more at that than the biting sense of humor this book is being worshiped for. (I didn’t see it. Maybe I was too busy being bitter and angry.)
Now that we’ve covered characters, let’s move on to their relationships. And let’s start with the fact that 500 pages is way too long for constant miscommunications. ESPECIALLY WHEN THE CHARACTERS ARE MARRIED. By the end, I was just hoping they would break up or one of them would fall off a cliff or get mauled by a bear Edian or something. Ugh, if you thought YA contemporaries couldn’t get worse, with teenage couples somehow never being on the same page despite a wealth of technology available, try setting it in medieval times. Now they’re MARRIED. And there are NO CELL PHONES. And they only see each other for, like, 20 minutes a day. Bleh. But don’t worry, dear reader! Soon, they become just as mushy gushy as the nerdy high school girl and the jock. WE GET IT, AUTHORS. LOVE SPRUNG FROM AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE. VERY ORIGINAL.
That’s what’s preventing me from giving this more than one star, I think. It’s not original at all. It’s a parade of tropes and clichés smashed into a speculative historical fiction narrative. Magic versus non-magic? Check. Shapeshifting? Check. Dethroned king? Check. Female protagonist obsessed with reading? Check. Narrator that addresses the audience? Check. Multiple perspectives? Check. Journey across medieval England? Check. Love springing where there was none? Check. King falling in love with commoner? Check-ity-check. Big moment of king convincing opposing forces to join him for the fight of the lifetime. Happens-more-than-once check. Offensive philosophy being proven wrong? Took 500 pages but check. I could go on but my wrist is hurting because I type weirdly. Suffice to say it’s nothing new.
WARNING: SPOILER. Also, NO CHARACTERS DIE OR EVEN REALLY GET INJURED IN THIS. It’s the unrealistic icing on top of the entirely fantastical cake. (A rare cake I’m not interested in eating. END SPOILER.
And now…as always in books I don’t enjoy…it’s time for…GENERAL STUPIDITY! Yes, fans of the show know GENERAL STUPIDITY is the category for when authors don’t get their books proofread well enough! It’s the little, easy-to-fix mistakes that truly get under the ol’ skin, no? Let’s get started, and let’s do it fast! 1) In Edward’s impoverished jetset across the British countryside, he suddenly sources 10 sovereigns. 2) This magic is bonkers ill-defined. 3) The idea that France would ally with the RIGHTFUL ENGLISH MONARCH is LAUGHABLE!!! 4) When Edward and G go to fight a “Great White Bear” (already doesn’t fit thematically) it has droppings the size of a horse’s, despite being the size of a tree when on all fours – plus that whole encounter was SO anticlimactic. 5) This book takes lines from classics (mostly Shakespeare, which is explained, albeit dumb-ly), steals a scene from The Princess Bride (G vs. Dudley is WAY too similar to Wesley vs. Humperdinck, down to pretend threats of strength and “Drop your sword”), and takes the frying-pan-as-cute-girl’s-weapon idea – and uses deeply similar reactions for its male characters – from Tangled. (If you were still convinced it was fresh and original.)
The back of the book is just so misleading. It states, “Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger – and caught up in an insidious plot to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She’s about to become Queen of England. Like that could go wrong.” That book sounds interesting. Wish I’d read whatever the synopsis writer thought they were reading. Because that covers just about none of this book. Could’ve read about something so fascinating as Jane actually ruling for more than 9 pages or being caught up in a plot instead of being the product of one or various hijinks ensuing from either scenario. Too bad, I guess.
I suppose what it comes down to is: if you’re going to write a book in which you thoroughly change history, make it more interesting than the actual history. Because I found this one a total slog. I much prefer the real story that real events gave to us. History is cool, man!
Bottom line: I’m upset, because I think most people with tastes like mine liked this book…but I disliked the characters, found it boring, thought the historic revisions were silly, felt misled by the synopsis, was bugged by stolen ideas, counted clichés, wished death on characters just so the quasi-will-they-won’t-they would end, and wanted to read about the actual, more interesting, real-life story. For those reasons, I have to give it one star.