Title: Innocent Traitor
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 3/5 Stars
I know a lot about Tudor England - both the fantasies created by historical fiction authors and Hollywood, as well as the factual history of the time. I'm by no means an expert, but my working knowledge made me pretty well-versed in Lady Jane Grey and her lamentably short reign as Queen of England before I began reading Innocent Traitor.
This book took me awhile to read, partly because of personal stuff and partly because I didn't find the first half particularly compelling. There was little besides my own determination that prompted me to turn each page and see what happened next. I hate to blame that on the author, though, because I really don't want to fault her for the fact that I knew the subject matter. That said, I think the fault does lie within the subject matter.
Lady Jane Grey, though incredibly smart and well-educated, was boring. Tragically boring. She was used as a puppet from the day she was born until the day she was executed. Because of her sex, her faith, her age and her station, she had no control over anything. She was utterly powerless. Her entire life was one, big, disappointing tragedy and what I will say for Ms. Weir is that she does an excellent job of hammering that point home. Where Elizabeth Tudor used her intelligence to navigate what could easily be described as the most perilous heritage and early life imaginable, Jane does very little to direct her own course, differing instead to her religious convictions and duty to obey - her parents, her sovereign, her elders, her faith. Jane's faith is her guiding light and as admirable as that was, it was also infuriating how it kept her from ever taking any personal action on her own behalf. There were times I almost put down the book because I just couldn't deal with her anymore. She suffered her trials like the Protestant martyr she later became, but that's all she did, and knowing how it would all end, it nearly became too much.
Reading Innocent Traitor has made me question my future reading habits. I'm going to think very carefully about whether or not I'll pick up the next novelization of an actual historical figure - especially one who has a tragic end. There is merit in Jane's story. Her unwavering faith is something to be admired regardless of religious affiliation and her grace in the face of death is inspiring.
But it is the injustices and the frailities of the human race that leave the lasting impression and I'm not sure how often I really need to be reminded of how cruel we can be to each other. Even taking into account that Innocent Traitor is a work of fiction, the sad truth is, Jane was executed. Ms. Weir may have taken creative license with the steps that brought her to the chopping block on February 12th, 1554, but steps were taken and I have no trouble believing that Ms. Weir came close to reality. Lady Jane Grey died as she lived, a political pawn in a game she wished no part of.
Since, I don't want to end this review on a dire note, from a techincal standpoing, I liked how Ms. Weir used a shifting first person narrative. Every major player had the opportunity for their viewpoint, their voice, to be heard and it made for a fairly well-balanced story. I am not inclined to ever sympathize with Queen Mary, but it was hard to hate her in this novel, despite her actions.
I'd really like to give this book 3.5 stars because it is a thoroughly researched and vividly imagined novel. Subject matter aside, I enjoyed Ms. Weir's style and I will definitely try her other works.