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*** The Author ***
The author has a good educational background but both this, and his experience in the workplace, had been in the world of commerce, until he turned to writing.
He was born in Wales in 1941 and now lives in Devon where he writes, paints and tends his vineyards.
This book is his debut, and is primarily about the fictional character Richard Stocker. This character's story continues in the sequel Daughters of the Doge, set in Venice, which I hope to read soon.
*** Fact or Fiction? ***
This is fiction mixed with Tudor history. However, it is not easy to tell the difference between fact and fiction in this book, which I know will immediately put some readers off. As there is a lot of truth in the story, I would have liked the author to show, perhaps in an appendix, what is documented fact, and what is from his imagination.
I did find out from the internet the initial inspiration for this book. This was the result of a visit to the National Trust property of Shute House in North Devon. Lord Henry Grey owned this property, and it is thought that Lady Jane, his daughter, once visited.
Research of local history told the author that there was a farmer called John Stocker, who had a son of the same name. They had a neighbour who was a well-respected doctor, Dr Marwood. To these real characters, is added a second son for John Stocker, called Richard.
His imagination had Richard Stocker meet the Grey family when they visited Shute House. This happens at the beginning of the book, and he so impresses the family that they take him to be part of their household, when they return to their family home at Bradgate in Leicestershire. The quick rise of this farmer's son through the servant ranks, and the great trust put in him by the family, will probably irritate historical perfectionists, but if you think this may not apply to you, carry on reading.
Although Lady Jane and her two sisters would have had access to good education, the great knowledge of life, as well as formal education, of Mary, the youngest of the sisters seemed unlikely to me. She was only 6 at the beginning of the three-year story, and the author used her supposed wisdom to convey knowledge of court and family politics to her new friend Richard Stocker.
Despite some "artistic licence" to fit the story, I believe that the central historical facts are correct. On his website, the author says that he read several biographies about Lady Jane and history books of the period, before writing this novel, but doesn't reveal which ones.
What I do believe the author is very knowledgeable about is the ways of the countryside. As the main character was a farmer's son, and his work for the family included looking after the horses, I think the parts of the story involving natural history were extremely well done.
*** Writing Style ***
We read the story from the viewpoint of main character Richard Stocker, who narrates it. He is hoping that the patronage of this noble family will boost his prospects.
As well as seeing the sadly short story of Lady Jane unfold through his eyes, there is quite a bit of philosophy through the discussions that he has, particularly with Lady Jane, her tutor John Aylmer, and his Devonshire friend Dr Marwood. I believe this is a good way of showing why these characters had such strong opinions, but some readers would no doubt have preferred the book to be at least 100 pages shorter, by editing out much of this.
I found the parts of the story containing the most action gripping and can't see a reason why anyone would find fault with his style here, though.
While not all characters are betrayed as an historian would expect, I think the author captured Lady Jane well. Mixing Richard Stocker's first impressions of her with the Jane he is described as coming to know well, is one of the ways he illustrates the different strands of her personality.
*** Comparisons ***
I have read two historical novels about Lady Jane Grey recently.
I would give INNOCENT TRAITOR, by the seasoned historian Alison Weir, the full five stars.
Read this if you want to learn about the whole of Lady Jane Grey's life in the form of historically accurate fiction. Alison Weir has written many history books, but this is her first historical fiction novel.
Her second Tudor novel The Lady Elizabeth is now out (hardcover 3 April 2008).
IN THE SHADOW OF LADY JANE deserves four stars from me, which I think is very good for a debut novelist whose specialist subject is commerce.
Read this if you think you might enjoy a tale about three years in the life of the fictional character Richard Stocker 1551-54, an ambitious son of a Devon farmer, who became close to the Grey family during the last few years of Jane's life. Readers will learn if he regrets leaving his relatively peaceful way of living in the country, to get involved in the politics of life serving a noble family.
A sequel Daughters of the Doge has also been published. I hope to read this as well.
*** Recommendation ***
Historical purists will probably cringe at some of the imagined storyline, which is why I recommend an alternative for them (see Comparisons).
However, I enjoyed this book as a work of fiction, which incorporates the fictional hero of Richard Stocker into the family life of Lady Jane Grey.
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Pan Books (3 Aug 2007)