First Lines: You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete stranger (Lord Guildford or Gildford 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.
You ever have those books that you’re as nervous to read as you are excited? I’m a Tudor history buff and poor Jane Grey happens to be one of my favorites. So when I saw this was coming out, I got really excited. And then I saw it was supposed to be a comedy. Erm…how is the story of a young girl being beheaded going to become a comedy?
For the sake of getting the mood of this right, I’m going to copy in the actual summary: Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…
Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…
Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.
The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?
A bit strange, right? Actually, it worked. I was surprised.
See, my love for Jane Grey runs deep. Once I discovered the 1980s movie Lady Jane (which launched the careers for both Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes), I started researching her. So I knew the history here pretty well.
And, thankfully, the first half of the book actually sticks pretty close to the truth (if you don’t factor in Gifford being a horse. We’ll get to that). Truly, the biggest change to the history is the switch from the British fighting over being Catholic or Protestant and instead fighting over Ethian rights (I’m not even going to pretend I can type that word above, so just go with it). Essentially, it’s the same fight with the same players who wanted to be Protestant (and now support Ethians) on one side and those who wanted to be Catholic (and now wish to destroy Ethians) on the other. The strife is still there, just different.
I was so glad that Jane was still the historical figure that I’ve come to know. Clever, willful, bookish, someone who truly didn’t think she deserved–or wanted–the crown and yet became a pawn in a game she didn’t understand. And, in this story, she’s quite funny.
The humor in this book was not what I was expecting. Some of it was–puns, calling people weird insulting names (like “you yellow-faced baboon” style insults), situational irony. But a lot of it was unexpected pop culture references. There were some obligatory connections to Lady Jane, but there was also a ton of Shakespeare and movie references to The Princess Bride, Monty Python, and even Tangled. I wanted to start making a list of all the references I found because there were so many. They’re like Easter eggs.
The plot was pretty interesting. Like I mentioned, the first half is pretty close to the real history. The second half throws that out the window, and the narrators even tell you that. Personally, I liked the first half better because I wanted that history, but that’s me.
The one thing I didn’t like so much was that the narrators actually interrupt the story, to the point where they almost start feeling Grandpa from The Princess Bride. Every now and then, I was cool with it. They’d say things like, “We the narrators want you to know that the term ‘foxy’ for describing women didn’t come about until Jimi Hendrix used it.” Historical or informative tidbits were fine. But remember that scene from The Princess Bride with the Shrieking Eels when Grandpa interrupts the action? As we got closer to the end, that’s exactly what happened. They started interrupting the action to talk for a page or more about absolutely nothing. Ugh, it was frustrating.
Simply put, this was way better than I was expecting, especially since I thought the comedy part would be a train wreck but actually became really impressive.