The year is 1553. King Edward VI has fallen ill, and his trusted advisor has recommended changing the order of succession to ensure that Edward’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey, become queen in the event of his death. That Lady Jane has been recently engaged to said advisor’s son is, of course, simply a coincidence.
Jane has no desire to be queen. (No desire to be married, either, but sixteen was a bit spinstery for the day.) No, Jane would much rather spend time with her books. She’s rarely found without a book in hand, and can hardly get through a conversation without referencing some sassily titled book:
Poisonous and Nonpoisonous Berries of the WIld: the Joys of Surviving England on a Budget
The Kiss: It’s Not Just About the Lips
The Proper Treatment of Wounds on the Battlefield During the War of the Roses: A History
Jane has a love of reading that rivals even mine. And that love of reading comes in handy as she’s forced to assume a throne she never wanted. When she has to thwart a rebellion. When she finds out that she’s married to a very handsome horse.
Oh, yes, that’s right. This is a magical retelling of Lady Jane Grey’s story, and while it’s based in truth, our narrators have done a bit of research to uncover the “truth” behind Jane’s life. It turns out that there was quite a conflict in Jane’s day between the shapeshifters (Eðians) and non-shapeshifters (Verities). Edward V was an Eðian, able to shift into a lion and devour his opponents. Edward VI’s grandmother was also an Eðian, able to turn into a skunk and spray those who might try to offend her. Turns out that Jane’s husband, Gifford Dudley (call him G, please), is rather incapable of controlling his Eðian nature and transforms into a horse every day from dawn until dusk.
Can I just talk about G for a minute here? Of all the ways this book could have gone, I was so happy that G was a supportive husband for Jane. While their marriage was arranged, and neither of them were particularly excited about it, they come to care about each other and trust each other and it just made my heart so happy. The book doesn’t leave out the patriarchal attitudes of the 16th century, but the narrators (and Jane!) often call out the male characters when they insinuate that women are less capable than men. And, for G’s part, he turns out to be pretty enlightened by the end of the book.
Another thing that I loved about this book was all of the pop culture references. The French Taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail shows up as the insult “Your mother was a hamster and your father stank of elderberries” is thrown around willy-nilly. A character mentions an invitation to “The Red Wedding.” Jane, at one point, finds the only weapon available to be a heavy frying pan. And, of course, I can’t forget the references to Shakespeare:
Shall I compare thee to a barrel of apples?
Thou art more hairy, but sweeter inside.
Rough winds couldn’t keep me from taking you to chapel,
Where finally a horse could take a bride…
This book isn’t going to be for everyone. It has a special kind of Monty Python-style humor, so if you aren’t a huge fan of their sketches, you might not enjoy this book. But while many teenage girls would sneak out to see boys, steal their parents’ alcohol, or, at the very least, marathon something like One Tree Hill, when our parents were out of town, my best friend and I would stay up all night watching old Monty Python skits on PBS. Such wild children, I know. But the point of me telling you this is that I have always loved this sort of silly humor, so this book was right up my alley. And not only is it a silly retelling of the Renaissance era, it’s also delightfully well-written and highly entertaining.
I have not yet read anything by any of these three authors individually, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of their work. And, great news: they’ve announced that they’re releasing more retellings of other Janes! Personally, I can’t wait.
Final rating: ★★★★★
#mmdreading: a book about books or reading