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A moving story, but difficult to follow
on 5 February 2013
Historical fiction is not usually the kind of genre that I willingly pick up, or enjoy, mainly because I think a lot of writers in that field can rely on the intrinsically interesting story they're adapting to do half the work for them by keeping a reader interested. However, "Innocent Traitor" was set by my book club, which meant I read it and actually quite enjoyed it.
It's worth noting that other people seemed to enjoy the book a lot more and to have a much stronger emotional reaction to it than I did. This is not difficult to see why, since in her central character of Jane Grey, Alison Weir was able to bring to life a very tragic life that ended prematurely and in terribly unfair circumstances. Born into the English royal family in 1537, Jane grows to maturity amid a period of great religious uncertainty and as a young girl, she embraces Protestant evangelicalism, which she clings to for the rest of her life. Jane's royal blood eventually embroils her in a dispute over the royal succession, with predictably unhappy consequences for most of those concerned.
I cannot comment too much on the historical accuracy, but the author, Alison Weir, was a professional historian before turning her hand to being a writer of fiction. All in all, "Innocent Traitor" had the feel of reality to it and the central character of Jane and her betrothed, Guildford, were very well drawn. Part of the problem, however, that I had with "Innocent Traitor" was that the constant shift in narrators and POV chapters, which works very well in other novels, did not seem to work so well here. In fact, I found it distracting and irritating. None of the other narrators seemed as well drawn or crafted as Jane herself did and it seemed like an unconvincing conceit to have the focus constantly shifted, since the novel really came alive when it was told by Jane herself.
At times, "Innocent Traitor" did drag a little, for me personally, but it had moments of great tragedy and some very lovely scenes - particularly on the often hellish reality faced by sixteenth century women in terms of sex, marriage and childbirth. As well as politics, too, of course.