What "My Lady Jane" Does Right
The Success of "My Lady Jane"
My Lady Jane garnered thunderous applause in the book-lovers’ community. Because of this fame, many may have avoided the story. As someone who is not a reader of historical fiction, my love for this book is encouraging to others like me. The book is a perfect fit for all kinds of readers. It has coming-of-age tales bound with slow-burn romances. At the core of it, the story is about an ailing young king who rises to unexpected power. It is also about this king’s favorite cousin, a bookworm called Lady Jane Grey.
Meet "My Lady Jane" Authors
The Premise of "My Lady Jane"
Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows wrote My Lady Jane. They are popular figures in the world of young adult literature. Hand wrote a popular paranormal trilogy called Unearthly. Brodi Ashton’s Everneath trilogy frequents paranormal and mythology recommendation lists. Jodi Meadows penned fantasy and science-fiction novels.
My Lady Jane is a departure from the trio’s previous work. As a novel, it tackles and transforms the lives of historical figures. It begins with Edward, a dying king. He is meek and malleable. His not-at-all creepy counselor Lord John Dudley convinces him to marry off his cousin Jane to his son Gifford. Jane, a bookish and sassy redhead, is Edward’s favorite relative. Gifford is a mysterious figure that Edward never met before. The point of their union is to produce a male heir who would reign.
Lady Jane Grey’s reign does not last beyond nine days. This might be the case in My Lady Jane, but that’s where the similarities end. Hand, Ashton, and Meadows spruce up her story with fantastical elements, bad poetry, romance, and hilarity.
Popular Novels Published by the Authors of "My Lady Jane"
My Unexpected Love for "My Lady Jane"
I am part of a tough crowd to please with historical fiction novels. This is the case for many reasons. First, I tend to confuse historical figures often—especially ones with the same name. All the Henrys and the Edwards blend together. Second, I find historical novels to be distant. Authors within the genre include way too many points of view. Because the focus isn’t on character development, the heroes and villains are a blur.
My enjoyment of this novel is a testament to the authors’ accomplishment in this novel. Jane and Gifford are charming. Their mutual dislike makes sense. It is a triumph to watch their relationship’s transformation. Even more amazing is the authors’ ability to keep Edward relevant. He is isolated and out-of-touch. But he is still a young awkward person. We have all been there.
What Would You Do?
As king, Edward was able to set rules many would have loved. Which would you choose?
Meta-Narrative, Story Telling, and "My Lady Jane"
In this novel, the authors create comradery with their audience from the start. For instance, in their dedication page, they reference the movie Titanic. They specifically dedicate My Lady Jane to those who believed “there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door” Breaking the fourth wall allows the authors to comment on the story immediately. It creates closeness between authors and readers.
Plus, the meta-narrative style is in some of the most pervasive books out there. For example, The Princess Bride employs the use of multiple narrator and reader dialogues. There is the writer of the book, who is a separate entity from William Goldman. In addition, the grandpa in the story is also a narrator to his grandson. He occasionally stops the story when the plot gets too intense. Goldman fosters a comforting elderly relative presence this way. The grandpa care about his grandson and, by extension, the audience too.
Another example of meta-narratives is A Series of Unfortunate Events. The author uses the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. He presents himself as a grudging and pessimistic narrator. He repeatedly warns the audience and assures them more gloom is on the way. In doing so, he incorporates conspiratorial reader-narrator intimacy. While the books’ events are dark and gloomy, the mood is elevated by the dramatically dark comments. It allows readers to prepare emotionally for what’s coming next.
You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there is a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete stranger (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.— Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Beyond Humor: Love and Challenging Gender Norms
Gender-equality modernizes the story. It livens up the character of Jane especially. Edward and his court do not believe that Jane can rule. The authors are careful with Edward’s sexism. While he adores Jane, he does not expect her to sit upon the throne. She is more of a vessel to produce a male heir.
The authors counter this sexism by introducing many powerful women. Remarkably, they pair up the most entitled characters with their critics. These scenes offer persistent challenges to sexism. It is particularly clever to feature various female characters rather than relying on only one.
Revisiting historical figures is not an odd practice in literature. Over time, there have been retellings of prominent icons. Some stories change the circumstances of the story. Others, however, rework key elements in the characters themselves. A popular approach is to gender-bend characters. In doing so, writers challenge the gender expectations within the story. Also, they can shake up gender norms currently and for years to come.
Other Retellings of Popular Myths or Stories
A Study in Charlotte
An expansion of the Sherlock Holmes story featuring his descendant and John Watson's own descendant as well.
And I Darken
Story of Vlad the Impaler—as a woman
The Song of Achilles
The story of Greek hero Achilles through the perspective of Patroclus
The Children of Jocasta
Re-imagining of Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone from the perspectives of Jocasta and Antigone
E∂ians and a Fantastical Twist to An Otherwise Very-Real Story
The subplot of E∂ians is powerful. E∂ians are people who turn into animals. It is a surprisingly effective metaphor for intolerances. By featuring this subplot, the authors mirror the historical tension between Protestants and Catholics during Edward’s reign. As Mary gains the infamous “Bloody Mary” title, the authors present her as intolerant of E∂ians.
Mary is one of the multiple antagonists in My Lady Jane. Gifford’s dad, Lord John Dudley, is another villain. He is ashamed of his son because of his inability to switch between his human and animal form. Dudley continuously pressures Edward into making uncomfortable decisions. Besides, he reminds me of Richard Chillingworth in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I think it’s the same blatant creepiness. They both prey on someone helpless, too.
Most E∂ians in the story struggle with their transformations. They experience severe disorientation. Gifford, for instance, can’t connect with his wife or community. His transformations are at least predictable, though. Other characters are not so lucky. It takes time and focus to master these transformations. The authors add a bit of individuality to this process as well. Each person finds a specific key to understand their transformations. Thus: E∂ians’ shifts from one form to the other is emblematic of power and agency. They often shift when they need to escape imprisonment and restraint. In short: their "strangeness" is what makes them truly powerful.
“'When you came after me at the tavern, you nearly died.' He looked wrecked at the memory. 'You nearly died, and then who would I have argued with?'
'You'd have found someone.'
'No.' He stepped toward her. 'I only want to argue with you.'”— Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
The Slow-Burn Romances in "My Lady Jane"
The romances in My Lady Jane make the story more compelling. Jane and Gifford take center stage in that regard. They are at odds from the moment they meet. Both are more alike than they assume. The most important connection between them is in the lack of control they have over their lives. Gifford and Jane are set up to marry without meeting prior to their wedding.
As a result, both have animosity. Gifford leaps into assumptions on Jane. He sees her red hair and bookishness-unattractive qualities for women in the story’s setting. Her new husband hurts her with his exclamations.
“‘Do all of your rules pertain to books? I suppose I understand why, since your social shortcomings mean books are your closest friends.’ He momentarily seemed taken aback at his own rudeness.”
Their assumptions unraveling become key ingredients in their romance. Jane and Gifford are catapulted into Edward’s throne and they come to rely on each other as confidants. Both have strengths the other needs. Jane is the well-spoken one and Gifford is more awkward. The authors’ choice to include Gifford’s terrible poetry expresses his inability to communicate well. Besides, Gifford is kind, innocent, and imaginative.
The other romance in the story is more of a spoiler. I will refrain from sharing too much about the sweetness of that pairing. Suffice to say: another key figure in the story must shed layers of awkward entitlement. The other part of the relationship involves a feisty and cute person rejects all notions of traditional life.
Conclusion: Why "My Lady Jane" Matters
This trio of authors has created a sweet fable from a tragedy. What was once a tale of helplessness is now two love stories intertwined. A political shift drives the narrative to resonate with modern readers. Rewriting the lives of historical figures was once a faux-pas. Now, it is a powerful practice. It is a reminder that the present is one that can be altered into a new reality.
Recommend your Favorite Retellings
Have you read any retellings like "My Lady Jane"? (Expand on answers in comments)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 Dina AH