This riveting, richly descriptive novel chronicles the life of Lady Jane Grey. For those unfamiliar with British royal history, fifteen-year-old Lady Jane was named queen of England for nine days in July 1553. She was well-born, highly educated, and a devout Protestant. As the great-niece of King Henry VIII, it would have been customary for her family to forge a marriage alliance with one of the first families of the realm. Her parents have royal ambitions, however, and that is what precipitates tragedy.
Weir, a noted historian, parcels the story out by means of multiple narrators, the primary voice being that of Jane herself. Next is her self-absorbed, spiteful, mother, Frances Brandon. Adding a much-needed dose of tenderness are her nurse, Mrs. Ellen, and Queen Katherine Parr, who becomes a sort of foster mother to Jane. Lady Mary, later Queen Mary, also shows a level of sympathy for the girl, even as she despises her religion. Of the male narrators—her father, Dorset, and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, later Duke of Northumberland—neither views Jane as anything more than a means to an end.
Of course, the 21st century reader can feel nothing but pity for Jane and contempt for her conniving guardians, as well as for a social system that treated women as property. The religious struggle that looms in the background is another source of frustration. Weir tries to present Jane as a character with a will to reject all that is forced on her. But sadly, the truth is that as a woman, she had little say in the matter of her own destiny.