Lady Jane Grey was born as a disappointment-a daughter instead of a son. Her mother said upon her birth in this historical novel (Page 5): "I should be joyful, thanking God for the arrival of a lusty child. Instead my spirits plummet. All this-for nothing." Daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and Frances Brandon, grand-daughter of King Henry VII and related to King Henry VIII, her parents' ambition dominated Jane's life. Her parents' goal A marriage that would bring the family power. The original hope was for her to marry Edward, son of Henry VIII.
As a child, Jane is treated poorly by her parents, although her father shows some interest in her. She is an engaging child, with a curious mind. She enjoys learning-from languages to music to the classics. The book's treatment of her makes her into a little woman when she was probably too young to think in the manner attributable to her. Still, in that era, childhood as we know it did not exist.
Events in the book are portrayed first person, through the eyes of a number of people-from Lady Jane Grey to her parents to Mrs. Ellen to Queen Jane Seymour to Queen Mary to the Duke of Northumberland and so on. While this adds a personal perspective that works pretty well, it can sometimes be a bit too kaleidoscopic for my taste. Through these various characters, we learn of the great events of the day as they happen-Henry VIII's marriages to Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr, Edward VI's brief reign, internal and external crises facing the country.
But, of course, the arc of this work is the brief reign of Lade Jane Grey as Queen Jane. Her parents and important figures such as Northumberland maneuvered to make her Queen rather than allowing the Catholic Mary to gain the throne. They trusted that the English citizenry would reject Mary and that they could manipulate Jane as a figurehead to run England as they chose. The novel shows how Jane tried to be a Queen but found herself thwarted by those who would use her. Her miserable marriage to a Dudley did not help matters. After only a fortnight as Queen, forces loyal to Mary overthrew the lot of nobles who had plotted to make Jane Queen. Then, the slow denouement, as Mary slowly came to see that, for many reasons, she had to remove Jane from the scene-although she saw her as innocent. The very title of this work, "Innocent Traitor," says a great deal. The novel ends with real emotional pop, as Jane prepared a simple speech to give before her death. Her dignity, compared with the whimpering of men much more guilty than she, provides a remarkable contrast (this isn't a spoiler; if people don't know what happened to Lady Jane Grey, they don't know much about history!).
Anyhow, despite some problematic choices by the author, Alison Weir, this is a compelling piece of historical fiction. Do read the author's note at the end. The author discusses the choices that she made in writing portions of the book where there is uncertainty in the historical record or where she took a certain degree of creative license.