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Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

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Melisende
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Location: Australia

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

Postby Melisende » Thu September 4th, 2008, 12:51 pm

The story of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir.

Okay - I began this book with severe trepidation. Weir is not one of my favourite authors - especially her brand of historical "non-fiction" - so I was hesitant to say the least when I chose this book to read. Others who have read it have given good reviews. Well, now to mine.

I liked it!! Yes, strangely enough, I enjoyed this foray into fiction by Weir far greater than any of her "factual" based books. She manages to convincingly tell the story of Lady Jane Grey, the Nines Days' Queen of England.

Weir's book takes the form of a narrative told by the various characters of the book - the main ones being Jane, herself, and her mother, Lady Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, and Jane's nurse, Mrs Ellen. A number of other historical personages add their voices: Queen Mary I (The Lady Mary), Queen Katherine Parr, Queen Jane Seymour; and later John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and lastly, The Executioner.

Jane's character comes across as sympathetic though at times her stubborness does irk one - the character of her mother, Frances, is another story. Frances was renown for her cruelty to her daughter Jane - and at the end of the book, Frances is rebuking herself for being a 'strict" parent.

The story of Jane's life flows well, despite the number of voices being heard - this does not complicate things. The book is not encumbered with a lot of historical detail - and yet it maintains true to Jane's life as we know it. It is easy to read and the story is easy to follow regardless of which character has centre stage.

Of all Weir's books, this is one I would recommend.
"For my part, I adhere to the maxim of antiquity: The throne is a glorious sepulchre."

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Thu September 4th, 2008, 12:55 pm

The number of voices did bother me. These were my thoughts when I read it.


Alison Weir, our pre-eminent popular historian, has now fulfilled a life's ambition to write historical fiction. She has chosen as her subject the bravest, most sympathetic and wronged heroine of Tudor England, Lady Jane Grey.

Lady Jane Grey was born into times of extreme danger. Child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she was merely a pawn in a dynastic power game with the highest stakes, she lived a live in thrall to political machinations and lethal religious fervour.

Jane's astonishing and essentially tragic story was played out during one of the most momentous periods of English history. As a great-niece of Henry VIII, and the cousin of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, she grew up to realise that she could never throw off the chains of her destiny. Her honesty, intelligence and strength of
character carry the reader through all the vicious twists of Tudor power politics, to her nine-day reign and its unbearably poignant conclusion.


Alison Weir is the author of numerous non-fiction books, but Innocent Traitor is her first fiction book. She has taken the story of the Nine Day Queen - Lady Jane Grey, and given us the details of her childhood, her relationship with her parents, her introduction to court, and then the machinations behind trying to put Jane on the throne following the death of Henry VIII's son, King Edward. We are also given an insight into Jane as a very enthusiastic and somewhat dogmatic Protestant during a time of huge religious upheaval in 16th century England.

Daughter of Frances Brandon, the sister of Henry VII, Lady Jane Grey had what can only be portrayed as a miserable childhood right from birth, when her parents were very disappointed that she was not a boy. Frances was an extremely strict mother, who punished Jane excessively for even the most minor of infractions. In reality, whilst her parents were well matched in their own marriage, it appeared that they were really only concerned by what they could gain out of marrying Jane off. Right from her earliest days, Jane was raised with an eye to being an extremely accomplished, and therefore marriageable, young lady. I am sure that the Grey's were not the only court families who viewed their daughters in this way, but the portrayal given in the book emphasises the coldness of Frances Brandon in particular.

As Jane grows, she is introduced to court, and she becomes particularly attached to Queen Katherine Parr. Indeed, after Henry's death, and Queen Katherine' s marriage to Thomas Seymour, Jane goes to live with Queen Katherine, and for once in her short life, seems happy. Even then though, the reason for these living arrangements is related to trying to arrange a glittering marriage for Jane (with of course rewards galore for both her parents, and Thomas Seymour who is trying to make the arrangements).

As King Edward gets closer and closer to death, the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing continues, with the end result that Jane is married to the son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and eventually declared a reluctant queen. Her reign lasted just nine days, and she was deserted by those that had put her into the role and left to the mercy of Queen Mary I.

I have to admit that I have never read any of Alison Weir's non-fiction books, so when I started reading this book it wasn't from the perspective of seeing how a historian fared in the change from non fiction to historical fiction, it was from the perspective of a completely new to me author. It has to be said that she certainly challenged herself.

This whole book is written from first person point of view. My major issue with this book is the fact that it isn't just from one or two people's POV - rather we have at least nine different views....that's a lot of head hopping. Granted that a couple of those are only for a few paragraphs, and even the with those people who we do get to know quite well, there are times where an we have a couple of paragraphs from one point of view and then we move onto the next perspective. More than once I had to go back a page or two to find out once again who was providing the narrative to be sure that I was understanding what I was reading in the correct context.

Maybe she decided to write from first person POV because third person could have been perceived as being too similar as writing non-fiction in terms of the detached viewpoint. Who knows. Personally, I felt as though there were at least three or four unnecessary narrators. Yes, they all added something to the narrative about what was happening but there may well have been other ways of achieving the dissemination of the same information.

Weir has taken the known facts, even the strange ones that seem implausible (for example, the way that Queen Katherine Parr's warrant for arrest was found and given to her, eventually meaning that Henry did not carry through with it) and then filled them out admirably, giving us a very interesting portrait of the life and times of Lady Jane Grey. It is shocking to me at times to realise how young many of these young people were when they were found guilty of treasonable offences, and executed - such a young age to be considered mature enough to be such a threat to the monarchy.

Whilst I did have issues with the first person points of view, this was still an entertaining read, and I am glad to have taken the time to read it.

Rating 4/5
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Misfit
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Postby Misfit » Thu September 4th, 2008, 2:09 pm

I enjoyed this as well, but also found the changing POV's to be more than a bit distracting.

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Perdita
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Postby Perdita » Thu September 4th, 2008, 8:24 pm

I liked this one as well. Hearing the different viewpoints of all the different characters involved made everything fall into place and make sense, because it's quite a complicated story with all the politics and scheming.
The only thing that grated a bit was how 'knowing' and articulate Jane was portrayed in the early chapters when she was supposed to be only 4 or 5years old. She spoke like an adult.

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diamondlil
Bibliomaniac

Postby diamondlil » Thu September 4th, 2008, 8:49 pm

I had this same issue with Elizabeth in The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. In her authors note she talked about how Elizabeth was quoted as being precocious and intelligent, but it was seriously overwritten into both of these books.
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Tanzanite
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Postby Tanzanite » Thu September 4th, 2008, 11:28 pm

"diamondlil" wrote:I had this same issue with Elizabeth in The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. In her authors note she talked about how Elizabeth was quoted as being precocious and intelligent, but it was seriously overwritten into both of these books.


I agree with you there. I really liked the multiple POV. One of the more interesting ones I thought (although also one of the shortest) was that of the executioner. That job would be bad enough; but to have to execute a teenage girl like that, would have to be the worst.

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Divia
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Postby Divia » Fri September 5th, 2008, 12:39 am

"Misfit" wrote:I enjoyed this as well, but also found the changing POV's to be more than a bit distracting.



Agreed. I dont like a story to jump around that much. For me its unbearable. I made it through though.

And I also agree with the comment about how Jane and Elizabeth were smart but the author seemed to go overboard just a tad.
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boswellbaxter
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Postby boswellbaxter » Fri September 5th, 2008, 11:58 pm

My review:

Alison Weir's first historical novel, Innocent Traitor, is Weir's take on the story of Lady Jane Grey, the "Nine Days' Queen." The story spans the time from Jane's birth, when she sorely disappoints her parents by not being a boy, to her death.

Weir chose an interesting narrative style for her novel. Instead of the time-honored (and very shopworn) "let me look back upon my life upon the eve of my death" first-person narration, she tells Jane's story through a variety of first-person narrators: Jane, Jane's nurse, Jane's mother, Queen Jane Seymour, Queen Katherine Parr, Queen Mary, John Dudley, and, finally, Jane's executioner. Several people who have read the book have commented that they disliked the jumps from narrator to narrator. I didn't find this bothersome, as it allows the reader to know things that Jane could not have known and to witness events she could not have witnessed; it also allows Weir to give necessary background information without sounding strained and artificial. Futhermore, the device of the multiple narrators enables Weir to make points without beating them in: for instance, we can see, as Jane and Mary can't, how much in common the rigidly Catholic Mary has with the rigidly Protestant Jane. (Sometimes, too, the multiple narrators add some comparatively light relief in what's mostly a rather dark novel, as when we discover what Queen Katherine Parr really thinks of Jane's mother.)

My only objection to the narrators, in fact, was that men were underrepresented. The only man we hear from regularly, John Dudley, is a thoroughgoing villain; though his perspective was a useful one, it would have added more balance to the book to hear from others as well, preferably more complex, conflicted men than he. I especially felt the absence of not knowing what Jane's father was thinking--or not thinking--when he laid his final, unsuccessful plot. I would have also liked to hear more from Jane's callow husband.

Jane and her family are handled well. Jane's parents treat her shabbily and insensitively, yet Weir manages to convey all of their considerable flaws without making them completely hateful. (Jane's mother Frances, genuinely grieved over her daughter's impending death yet still able to arrange to console herself with her young master of horse, is especially memorable.) Jane herself is a well-rounded character: strong-willed and good-hearted, yet with a self-righteous, almost irritating streak that saves her from being simply a pathetic victim.

All in all, I finished this novel feeling a genuine sense of loss, and I'm looking forward to Weir's next excursion into historical fiction.
Susan Higginbotham
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siouxzee
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Postby siouxzee » Sun August 16th, 2009, 8:34 pm

I, too, felt severe trepidation going into this book, but for the opposite reason - Weir is one of my favorite authors, but the thought of her writing fiction was frightening. However, I found this book to be captivating, even though I knew the 'story' so well.
I always enjoy books with multiple POVs (if done right, of course) so it didn't bother me in the least. I felt like it rounded out the story and the characters.

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Divia
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Postby Divia » Sun August 16th, 2009, 9:11 pm

Well, to be fair weir did want more povs in the story but I think her publisher said NO. I thought I heard she wanted 13. I think thats overkill, personally. So maybe more men would have been in the original story. That would be an interesting question to ask her!
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