Books (re)Read in 2016: ‘Innocent Traitor’ by Alison Weir
by Alison Weir
Audiobook performed by Stina Nielsen, Davina Porter, Bianca Amato, Jenny Sterlin, Jill Tanner, Gerard Doyle, and Robert Ian Mackenzie
My (2013) rating: 4 stars (story), 4.5 stars (audio performance)
Book Summary from Goodreads:
New York Times best-selling author Alison Weir has earned her reputation as the preeminent historian of British royalty. Now with ‘Innocent Traitor,’ Weir utilizes her vast knowledge and captivating narrative style to craft her first historical novel, choosing Lady Jane Grey, the most sympathetic heroine of Tudor England, as her enthralling subject.
The child of a scheming father and ruthless mother, Jane is born during a time when ambition dictates action. Cousin to Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, she is merely a pawn in a political and religious game in which one false step means a certain demise. But Lady Jane has remarkable qualities that help her to withstand the constant pressures of the royal machinery far better than most expect.
Weir’s striking novel sweeps readers back through the centuries to witness firsthand one of the most poignant tales from a time of constant scheming and power brokering.
I’m currently re-listening to this, so here’s my original review from 2013:
This was a LOOOOONNNNNGGGGG look at the life of the Nine-Day Queen, Jane Grey, the traitor queen of England who was forced to take the crown at age 15/16 by men who wielded power like bludgeons during one of the most chaotic times in England’s history.
I enjoyed this book much more than I did The Lady Elizabeth, Weir’s novelization of the childhood and youth of Elizabeth I. While that one betrayed Weir’s experience as a nonfiction writer, this one read more like a Philippa Gregory novel—with multiple first-person viewpoints (much like my favorite, The Boleyn Inheritance). And, much like the audio version of that Gregory novel, this one featured a different narrator for almost every viewpoint.
Because Jane Grey was so young for most of the book, it actually worked better to have the multiple viewpoint characters, since she was a passive player in most of what happened to her. It was good to get into the minds (in a fictional conjecture, of course) of the people behind the machinations that led, ultimately, to Jane’s execution as a heretical traitor in February 1554.
Though I knew the story from the “outside”—in that I knew the timeline and details of the historical occurrences—it was interesting to get an “inside” look at the characters who are usually brushed aside as bit players in the transition from King Edward VI to Queen Mary I. Especially since I’ve recently read The Tudor Secret and The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gortner, which is a complete fictionalization of these events (experienced through completely fictional characters interacting with the historical figures/events).
There isn’t much in fiction that covers the lives (and reigns) of both Edward VI and Jane Grey, so the subject matter was what drew me to this book. It was Weir’s surprisingly deft handling of all of the characters that kept my interest throughout the 18+ hours of this audiobook (though, as with The Lady Elizabeth, I found that when she was unable to characterize Jane’s youth through the prose—even at four years old, Jane came across as an adult, with an adult’s vocabulary, reasoning, and understanding).
The only narrator I had any issue with was Stina Nielsen, who was the voice for Jane Grey’s viewpoint. She had a tendency to pause at odd/awkward places in the middle of sentences, which made me have to run it back to figure out what the sentence was actually supposed to be saying, since the pauses chopped up the flow/meaning. She also had a tendency to mispronounce things/pronounce them oddly (such as saying tutor for Tudor). While this was annoying and would start getting on my nerves, invariably just when I was getting ready to turn it off, the viewpoint would switch to another character which meant another narrator.
I would have liked to have seen one last scene in the book: from Queen Mary’s viewpoint, reacting to Jane’s death. The end of the book, as it was for Jane, was too abrupt.
My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)
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