I have a thing for historical fiction. I love the sweeping romance of the Renaissance, the electricity of change in the 18th century. I love the dark glamour of the Roaring Twenties and the fantastical propriety and espionage of our own Steampunk Victorian era. The elaborate clothing, the beautiful worlds, and the inkling that this may have been a part of your history are all enough to give you shivers.
What I like the best, in all honesty, are the ones that are true stories. The stories of people who truly existed, who had such a fascinating life that they make a good novel with only a few minor details changed. Those are the most interesting to me, the fact that history was truly so detailed and eventful that even one person’s story can make for a wild ride.
That being said, I also like the historical fictions that challenge everything we know as fact. The ones that are less about what did happen so much as what could have happened. Those are the ones that add stories of the supernatural, eerie bits of magic that are still within the realm of possibility.
Then, there are the ones that completely throw history out the window. They rewrite the worlds they use as they see fit, keeping to the barest bones of real facts and events. They invent characters who didn’t exist, places that have never before even been mentioned, and throw in strange and unusual magic as the icing on the cake. Those are the fun ones.
I now present to you, lords and ladies, My Lady Jane.
This story is a wickedly satirical rewrite of history from beginning to end. Take even the dedication page as your example.
“For everyone who knows there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door.
And for England. We’re really sorry for what we’re about to do to your history.”
This book is four hundred and ninety-one pages long, and trust me- it’s a worthy investment. I was doubting my decision for the first thirty pages or so. I wasn’t bored, per se, so much as just not entirely enthralled. And then the story picked up and there was a horse.
Edward, the sixteen-year-old King of England, is dying. He’s always ill, coughing and dizzy and more than a little generally unwell. He’s almost always shut away in his room, and he has very few true friends. These friends are a dog named Petunia (not his dog, mind you) and his cousin Lady Jane Grey.
Lady Jane (just Jane, thank you very much) is best friends with only Edward and her books. She’s unmarried, and frankly, she likes it that way. When her cousin arranges a marriage for her, that very Saturday, no less, it must be said that she is not happy.
Gifford (call him G) is an Eðian (ee-thy-un, for the uninitiated). He can become an animal at will, or at least, he’s supposed to. We’re still working on that whole ‘at will’ part. Every sunrise, he turns into a beautiful horse, and stays that way until sunset, when he can return to his duties as a man. What those duties are varies in the minds of everyone he meets. He’s thrust into an arranged married for this weekend, he’s less than excited. He’ll have to explain about his horsey little problem to a lady he’s never met.
Well, one thing leads to another, and Jane doesn’t find out about the equine issue until G turns into a horse before her eyes and then consumes the bridal bouquet. Suffice it to say, Jane is thoroughly annoyed, and not a little surprised. Eðians, yes, she’s used to those. Her new husband (ugh, how she despises that word) eating her roses? Not so much.
Our wacky coterie of characters is swept into a whirlwind after a royal assassination attempt, and things escalate even higher- Jane has been named Edward’s successor, there’s a wickedly clever pun-intended Eðian on the loose, and the shapes of everyone we thought we could trust are changing faster than you can say ‘Henry VIII’.
This story is a hilarious tour de force of magic, wit, and utter charm. Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows are all masters of fantasy, and their collaboration has filled a much-needed gap in the YA community. The story bridges genres- fantasy and historical- and is the perfect balance of many ingredients in a story.
My Lady Jane is snarky without being rude, an amusing commentary on England’s history, and sprinkled with references to The Princess Bride, Monty Python, and many more classics of fantasy and humor.