An addition to the growing shelf of Tudor-era historical fiction explores the consequences a young queen faces after her brief reign.
The unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, cousin of the short-lived Edward VI, was bullied into marriage and foisted upon the throne for a nine-day reign before being swatted aside by supporters of Mary Tudor. Dunn adds to her body of work set in this period (The May Bride, 2014, etc.) by guiding us through the months of Jane’s imprisonment in the Tower of London. She is chaperoned by Elizabeth Tilney, the love-starved teenage daughter of rural gentry who narrates the novel: “A good Catholic girl was what they said they needed” to keep Jane company in her Tower apartment. Merely indifferently good or Catholic, Elizabeth has an arresting, original voice, and, country girl or no, she sounds darkly street-smart and contemporary. Jane is a scholarly Protestant, dedicated to her books and the great theological freedom they might bring to England. Elizabeth, by contrast, describes herself as a “ducker and diver, following my nose, keeping to corners, taking what I could get and believing in nothing and no one.” In those turbulent times, Elizabeth’s equivocation is shared by most of her countrymen, who flipped between Catholicism and Protestantism to save their necks. But Elizabeth begins to feel fickle in the face of the devotion of her pious bedmate. Despite their differences, the women bond, and Elizabeth also grows close to Jane’s pompous but loyal husband, Guilford. Dunn assumes a reading audience attuned to the theology and politics of the times. But the story of the reluctant friendship between two young women, one from whom the world expected too much and one whom the world barely acknowledged, is keenly drawn and wrenching in its outcome.
Fun, engaging prose enhances complex religious themes; a good novel for those already Elizabethan-era savvy.