Book Review: “My Lady Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a long time.

I bought it on impulse sometime last year (summer? early fall?), and got about 10 pages into it before putting it down, never to pick it up again. I put it on my list of books to read in 2019 (and as part of the PopSugar reading challenge!), and yesterday, I finally read it.

Yep. Read it in a day. Just under three hours, I think. It’s a very short book at 491 pages.

Let me start this review off by saying I really wanted to love this book. Like, really, really wanted. I wanted to find the absolute joy that I saw in other reviews, and I guess I got my hopes up too high, because while I did enjoy it, and may keep it on my shelf (I’m gonna be starting the KonMari method over the next few weeks, so it’s a tossup!), it’s just a strong “like” and not a “love.” Let me tell you why.

My Lady Jane is a retelling of the story of Jane Grey, who was Queen of England after Edward VI died, but for only nine days. (And then “Bloody” Queen Mary came, took the throne, and burned all Protestants alive for several years.) This novel explores what happened behind the scenes, and how Edward didn’t actually die.

Oh, and also, like half the population can turn into animals. (It’s a “gift,” passed down through bloodlines, and it’s totally the whole Catholics (Verities, aka non-changlings) vs Protestants (Edians) but in slightly easier ways to understand.)

The story itself is fine, and I will say there were several twists I couldn’t see coming. However, there were a lot of others that I could see coming, and that sort of ruined the enjoyment. I want books to keep me guessing!

Second, the authors try so freaking hard to cram pop culture references into this book. There are Shakespeare references (explained through “oh, it’s totally true that Shakespeare was a front and everything was actually written decades earlier by this guy!”), references to Monty Python (which are extremely forced and made me roll my eyes every time I came across them), and references to The Princess Bride (again, forced, again, eye-rolling). I’m sure there are more that went over my head, too. I can’t stand it when books try and make themselves “relevant” or show that their authors are “hip” by cramming in pop culture references like this. Please, come up with your own inside jokes, your own explanations, your own catchy and interesting ways to describe things! Don’t depend on other people to do the work for you!

Third, everything moves so fast. At one point, they travel to France and back, but the entire travel time takes less than a chapter, and I’m not actually sure how much time has passed. The only timeline I am 100% sure on is how long Jane was in power as Queen, because we all know she was Queen for 9 days (and then in real life she lost her head, but the narrators make it clear that’s not where they’re going with this). The pacing is unreal. I’m not saying we needed another 100+ pages of exposition, etc., but I would have liked a little bit of breathing room so I could take stock of what’s going on and how high our stakes are.

Can I talk about the narrators for a moment? Let the reader read the story in peace. Bursting in every few chapters to tell us something like, “Oh, don’t worry, we didn’t really kill the dog you just heard howl” takes away from all the tension, and I could feel myself deflate, with no real reason to keep going. (I’m not saying I want dogs to die in books, but I do want to be able to read the book for myself and see how things end!) Let the readers enjoy the book. Don’t tell us the ending before the end. Don’t ruin the tense moments. When I’m on the edge of my seat reading, I don’t want to be jarred out of it with “Surprise! Everything’s okay in the future, so you have no real reason to worry about anything that’s gonna happen in the next few pages!”

I get a very strong feeling that I am not the intended audience for this book. Even though I love historical fiction and I love historical retellings most of all, I felt disconnected from the characters. Maybe it’s because I’m 24 and I’ve figured life out a little more. Maybe it’s because I’ve read so many books and biographies on the Tudor family. Maybe because Jane is so hopelessly naiive throughout the vast majority of the book (and Gifford is hopeless, too). I really liked Bess, Gracie, and Gran, though, so they helped round the book out. But Jane? I fought hard to like her, especially in the beginning. I think I tolerated her by the end. Gifford is just another one of those sulky emo guys who say things like “I don’t let people get close to me because I don’t want to get hurt again,” and it gets tiresome after so many YA novels.

Is My Lady Jane a bad book? No. It’s a very good book. The story is excellent, and the Edians are very interesting, particularly because it takes a “strong emotional response” for one to change for the first time, which can lead to some very embarrassing situations if one isn’t prepared for it. I especially liked what happened to Mary at the end. But overall, I wanted more. There are many blank spaces in the book, and there are things that I feel like could have had more time spent on them. It goes so fast, and although the book is already nearly 500 pages, it wouldn’t have killed the authors to spread a few things out a little more.

I keep wavering on the score for this book. I think it would have to be between a 3.5-4.0. I’d place it on the higher end of the scale for teen girls (the intended audience for this book), and the low end for those jaded by life (like me). Wonderful concept, good execution, but needed a little more.

Will this stop me from reading My Plain Jane? Absolutely not. I’m totally going to read it, because Jane Eyre is one classic I’m rather partial to. I will probably rent it from the library first, though, particularly since it’s not out in paperback yet.

So, what do you think? Am I too harsh on this book? Have I been too devastated by life to properly appreciate this as the floofy teen rom-com it is? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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