- Around the Year #10: featuring an historical figure
- PopSugar #21: by two female authors (okay, three)
This is one of the challenge books I’d already gotten from the library before I realized I was going to need to focus on HAES/fat activist reading for a while. It’s sad enough to know I’m likely to “fail” these reading challenges in 2019: it would have been exponentially sadder to return unread books to the library. So I vowed to complete this book.*
I did not know how personally challenging it would be to keep that vow. Almost every night as I finished some section of reading and set the book down, the same thought played through my head as is playing now that I’ve completed all the book:
What the fuck did I just read?!?
This book was another impulse Kindle Daily Deal purchase.** The ad copy made it sound like a 21st-century, anachronistically-toned telling of the brief reign of Lady Jane Grey. Now, I’m as much obsessed with the Tudor monarchies as the rest of the world,*** and I was curious to see a modern day version of the Helena Bonham Carter/Cary Elwes pairing of my formative years. So buying this was a slam dunk: a no-brainer.
But then there’s everything the Amazon ad copy didn’t say about this book’s approach to bending history.
Remember how the whole Henry VIII/divorce/Anne Boleyn thing created a long-running conflict between the Protestant and Catholic faiths in England? And how the real Lady Jane Grey was moved up the line of succession because a dying Edward VI wanted a successor who would maintain Protestantism, instead of the Catholic fanaticism of his older sister?
Yeah. What happens in this version of Tudor England is that lots and lots of people are shapeshifters, able to switch between human and one animal form. So instead of Catholics vs. Protestants, the tensions here are between full-on-humans (“Verities”) and these shapeshifters (“E∂ians”). And again I say: what the fuck?
Now, I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by revealing this: the authors themselves lay out this conceit in the 3-page prologue that kicks the book off. And I guess I’ll give them some points for creativity or something.
But I just had no patience for this book. Not the overall conceit of these shape-shifters. Not the predominance of E∂ians among the prominent characters—if you’re trying to give the impression of a persecuted minority, then maybe make them an actual minority presence? Not the labored shout-outs to Monty Python and Shakespeare. Not the clunky rhythm of chapters alternating between 3 POV characters.
(Actually, now that I think of it, I wonder if each one of the three authors took the lead on a different POV character. I’d been wondering what the process would be for 3 people writing a novel together, and that possibility makes more sense than anything else I’ve come up with.)
The proto-feminist girl power message of the book was less clunky in execution than other features, but it was still kind of ham-handed.
Mainly, though, I just didn’t see the point of the whole shape-shifter angle. A parable for tolerance? Cool, but why do you need to hijack historical characters for your parable? Why not just create your own? The use of Mary Tudor as one of the book’s villains was particularly troubling. During her 5-year reign, the real-life historical Mary Tudor really and truly did burn a few hundred people at the stake for refusing to give up Protestantism. In light of that historical truth, using her book-version to threaten burning at the stake for E∂ians just felt really icky and exploitative.
This isn’t even an “eh” kind of book for me. It’s a plain old thumbs down kind of read.
* And the additional 2 library books still in my possession.
** “But didn’t you say you took it out of the library?” Both are true. I’ve been checking out library copies of e-books I’m reading so’s to get photographs for JALC. Besides, it’s more fun to track progress by page number than by Kindle’s “percent read” marker.
*** See: Philippa Gregory, Jonathan Rhys Meyers,Wolf Hall, etc.
Image credit: Photo taken by the author, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.
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