Thursday, January 18, 2018

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand

When I was in high school, I would sometimes walk over to my best friend's house and we would sit down and write, and then post, fanfiction. Completely off-the-wall AU fanfiction, of the variety that's often known derisively as "crackfics." It was terrible fanfiction and, yes, it's still up - or was, last time I checked. And no, I'm not going to tell you where it was posted or under what name, because it was bad, and I was fifteen when I wrote it. We had a good time writing it, though - and I think part of the reason we (foolishly) thought it was so great was because we poured a lot of our friendship and humor into the fic, to the point that the experience of writing the fic was greater than the sum of the parts.

I feel like that's kind of what happened in MY LADY JANE. These three authors, who I imagine are probably friends, decided to sit down together and compose their own fic - only it wasn't Ranma 1/2 or Inuyasha fic that they were writing about, but history itself. They sat down and they wrote fanfiction about Lady Jane Grey, and decided that Jane shouldn't die, so they turned her tragic ending and short-lived rule into a "spirited" romance, and they decided that Edward wasn't frail and sickly, but being poisoned instead. And they decided that the war between the Catholics and the Protestants would be much better written as a war between the, well, not-shape-shifters and the shape-shifters. And they also decided that shape-shifter was too banal, so they'd call them "edians" with a weird "d." CONFUSED YET? I WAS, TOO.

This is Tudor history crackfic, only it doesn't really work for a number of reasons.

Number 1) The narrative is condescending AF. The authors have all these constant asides written in parenthesis, which are obviously supposed to come across as adorable and funny and cute, but instead come across as overly precious and hand-holdy. "DID YOU GET MY JOKE? DID YOU?" It's literally the narrative equivalent of a four-year-old child thrusting their macaroni art into your face.

Number 2) The premise is stupid. When I got to the first page, I was like, "WTF." And then I got five pages deeper, and I was like, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" And by the time I got to the end of the book I was like, "HOLY HECK, YOU WEREN'T KIDDING ME." MY LADY JANE aspires to be many things - it wants to be Monty Python (and even rips several lines from it, including "It's just a flesh wound" and "your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries"); it wants to be Ladyhawke (or East of the Sun, West of the Moon); it wants to be The Princess Bride; and I think it wants to be Blackadder as well, with all that heavy winking about history, but it fails at all of these because it isn't funny enough to be like Monty Python, it isn't tragic or well-scripted enough to be Ladyhawke, it isn't as romantic or as clever as Princess Bride, and it especially is not as historically astute as Blackadder, which had inside jokes about history down to an art form. This book's jokes about history is to mention anachronisms like Jimi Hendrix or to cheekily suggest that Edward was the inventor of the hover hand (no, I'm not kidding) or that Jane was the inspiration for using "ferret" as a verb instead of just a noun (because, you know, she can turn into a ferret). WTF, book?

Number 3) The characters have no depth and their personalities and motivations can LITERALLY be summed up in a single word. Observe. Edward: "Sex." Gifford: "G." Jane: "Books." Gracie: "Scottish." Mary: "Evil." ALL of their interactions and jokes are based around these words. Edward wants to have sex before he dies, and then when he meets a girl, obsesses over her single-mindedly. Gifford hates his name and wants to be called "G." Jane likes books in that annoying way that's typical of heroines, in that it compensates for her utter lack of personality, and panders desperately to us, the readers, who also like books (and is tantamount to a giant neon "PLEASE LIKE HER" sign). Gracie is a Scottish shape-shifter who acts like Merida, and for some reason her being Scottish is a Big Deal. Mary, who I always kind of felt sorry for, is branded as the villain. Because apparently it's not enough that she's got a drink named "Bloody Mary" named after her; she's got to be the cardboard cut-out villain in this book populated with Patricia Wrede rejects. Why not rename her Evil Evilsson?

Number 4) The humor is so dumb and lame. For example, Gracie is a fox shifter and Edward thinks she's hot, so the authors make this terrible joke: Yes, Gracie was a fox. No, really. She was. Literally. (We know. It's too good.) (47%). Bad pun, which the authors then feel the need to explain, and then feel the need to congratulate themselves for. The entire narrative is like that, and I found it really grating. Maybe some people will find it charming, but I prefer subtlety to sledgehammers. And here's an example of Jane showing us how much she likes to book her books when she books her booky books:  "Armies aren't very good about carrying libraries with them. I can't imagine why. We'd fight so much less if everyone would just sit down and read" (79%). In case you didn't get it: BOOKS.

I bought this because it was on sale for $1.99 at the time and because most of my friends said that they loved it. They loved it. I don't get it (I REALLY DON'T GET IT OKAY), but whatever, I'm glad they enjoyed it (even if I'm now second-guessing all of their recommendations to me). When I wrote that crazy fic with my friends, we had a few(!) readers who would actually egg us on to write more. They even subscribed via their emails so they could get UPDATES(!!!) when we posted. Young me was shocked that we had so few readers to appreciate our brilliance. Older, wiser me is amazed that we had any at all. I'm sure these authors were really proud of their book, and they had a lot of fun writing it, and probably all patted each other on the back for a job well done. And hey, for every naysayer like me, there's like a thousand people who ate this up like it was an ice cream sundae with the works. SO CLEARLY, something here worked for some people. But if you're going into this thinking it's going to be like Monty Python or The Princess Bride like I did, it's not. At all.


1 out of 5 stars

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