Escorting the nine-day queen Lady Jane Grey across the Tower of London from throne room into imprisonment is Elizabeth Tilney, who surprised even herself by volunteering for the job. All Elizabeth knows is she’s keen to be away from home; she could do with some breathing space. And anyway, it won’t be for long: everyone knows Jane will go free as soon as the victorious new queen is crowned. Which is a good thing because the two sixteen-year-olds, cooped up together in a room in the Gentleman Gaoler’s house, couldn’t be less compatible. Protestant Jane is an icily self-composed idealist, and Catholic Elizabeth is . . . well, anything but.
They are united though by their disdain for the seventeen-year-old boy to whom Jane has recently been married: petulant, noisily-aggrieved Guildford Dudley, held prisoner in a neighboring tower and keen to pursue his prerogative of a daily walk with his wife.
As Jane’s captivity extends into the increasingly turbulent last months of 1553, the two girls learn to live with each other, but Elizabeth finds herself drawn into the difficult relationship between the newlyweds. And when, at the turn of the year, events take an unexpected and dangerous direction, her newfound loyalties are put to the test.
This book I picked up from Sainsbury’s when I was book shopping with a friend of mine (we always end up buying books when we’re together). It’s a historical novel and Lady Jane Grey, who doesn’t get a lot of press normally, apart from how she was a pawn in a bigger game.
It’s interesting to see a historical woman in such a light. Normally when a book like this is written, it is to expand on the woman’s story and to humanise her for the audiences. Well, this book certainly humanises Lady Jane Grey but it does not portray her in a sympathetic light. To see her written as a religious fanatic and her husband as the more pragmatic of the two, it’s not an interpretation I normally see.
Elizabeth’s reaction, especially to the ending, was something I did like. It really highlighted that, under any other circumstances, she wouldn’t have liked Jane. But in this book they were sharing a room together 24/7 and Elizabeth’s world had shrunk to Jane, Dudley, Goose and the Patridges. It formed a strange kind of bond between them and I did like how it was written that Elizabeth didn’t really like Jane at times, but she still cared for her. And her reaction to Jane’s death, to see one part of the closed world being ripped away from her, that was heartbreaking, but it showed that Elizabeth, at least, would remember Jane and Dudley as real people, rather than two people on the throne for less than a fortnight.
The story did drag on a bit at times. It is hard to write a story in such a closed setting as the house and the garden without the reader feeling like they just want to skip to the next exciting bit. I would have liked a scene or a chapter from Jane’s POV, just so it could humanise her that little bit more. She came across sometimes as someone who was older beyond her years, and it would have been nice if the fact she was a teenage girl about to die would have come across a bit more.
All in all, I did like this book and would recommend it to people who like historical novels like this. Three stars!