Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Plane Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour

Imagine if you are subject to the whims of a madman. You cannot refuse him. You cannot deny him. You must give him what he wants — or die. You know this to be true because other women have been in the same exact position and failed.

Plain Jane presents that very conundrum faced by Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry Tudor, known to the rest of the world, and history, as Henry VIII.

Jane is a woman who, as a child, overheard her parents describe her as unattractive, fit for a convent that they'd have to pay to take her. Her lot was to be overlooked in life and love. Or, at least, that's what she thought.

Life never happens the way one thinks.

Laurien Gardner presents a very realistic look at the Tudor court, and one of its pivotal characters. Jane is brought in as a lady-in-waiting for Queen Catherine, much beloved by the people of England and mother of Princess Mary — and numerous sons who did not live. Henry's eye alighted on the queen's French-styled lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, a sassy wench who has denied the king his prize for a price: marry her and she will give him sons.

Jane sees this drama unfold from the front seat: as a lady-in-waiting to the king, she is privy to many private moments witnessed only by the sovereigns' intimates. She watches the people in the room closely, ascertaining clues  that could save their very lives if they only watched and listened rather than screaming and reacting. She knows how Anne could manage the monarch, if she only tried.

Soon, quite by surprise, she discovers her own chance to do that very thing.

I was disappointed that we spent so little time with Queen Jane. True, her reign was very short and little is known about her. However, in that case, the entire book is speculation based on reasonable information, so why not spend more time in the marriage and less in the build-up? Lady Jane became a little tedious in her self-effacement and dismissal of her own talents and qualities, and exactly what did she think people would say to her when she was swallowed whole by her violent protector who could have anyone executed (and proved it with his own beloved wives)?

We could have used her cousin Francis more to help illustrate her fate, even flesh out the world outside the chambers of the regents.

However, I liked the speculation of one of the least-known women of Henry's kingdom. I've read quite a bit by other historical novelists who spent time in the Tudor court, and this was an interesting take on a little-known woman whose life ultimately shaped England.

Laurien Gardner actually is a pseudonym of a group of fiction writers who have examined the first three wives of Henry VIII. I wouldn't mind reading another one to see if it's equally quick and easy of a read.

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