Plot Summary (from Amazon):
In the court of King Henry VIII, nothing is free–
and love comes at the highest price of all.
When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat’s shadow, Kitty’s now caught between two men–the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.
Soundtrack: “Secret” by The Pierces
“Because two can keep a secret when one of them is dead…”
After finishing A Storm of Swords, reading Gilt was the literary equivalent of taking a bite of chocolate mousse- rich and light, and a wonderful treat. The story takes a closer look at the life and untimely death of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, as told through the eyes of her supposed childhood confidante Kitty Tylney.
Catherine Howard was, in essence, Henry’s midlife crisis wife. He had divorced his first wife for Anne Boleyn, only to turn around and execute her for treason. His third wife (and some argue the love of his life) Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to his heir, and his attempt at a fourth marriage with Anne of Cleves was a disaster. In his fifties and starting to face his own mortality, Henry sought to reclaim some of the sparkle of his youth, and how better to do so than to marry a woman less than half his age? (Uh, knock knock… I can think of a LOT of ways, bud.)
In this book, Cat is portrayed as always being the star of the show. From the “Queen of Misrule” at the Dowager Duchess’s house to the eventual Queen of England, all of Cat’s life was spent, well, thinking of Cat. She was the Blair Waldorf of Tudor England, and if she wanted to sit on the Met steps with you or bring you to court, you considered yourself lucky to escape the tedium of servitude in the country. She has never been portrayed terribly sympathetically, and Katherine Longshore does little to change that fact. She gives us a Cat who is self-obsessed, selfish, and not above trying anything to advance her own status. All of life is a game, and throughout the book we see Cat “practicing” her scenes, from the perfect curtsy to get her
boobs noticed at court, to the most effective way to place her head on the block for her execution.
(Should I have thrown a “spoiler alert” there?? It’s history… there’s not much I can do to keep that little tidbit from you.)
We are treated to a far more delicious character in Kitty Tylney, Cat’s best friend and frequent partner-in-crime. Of less prominent social status, Kitty considers herself lucky to be one of the ladies chosen to be in Cat’s inner circle. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize exactly how thorny her life is about to become once she’s entrusted with all of the Queen’s secrets. She starts the book as a bit of a wallflower, but her evolution to a woman strong enough to stand up to the Queen and some smarmy courtiers is a pleasure to observe.
In addition to our main characters, Ms Longshore populates her novel with some other great historical figures- Archbishop Cranmer, the devious Duke of Norfolk, and Thomas Culpepper are among some of the notable ones. A great scene between Kitty and Culpepper colors the tone of their relationship throughout the novel, and gives a striking example of the darker side of court life. There is a pseudo-love triangle, though it is used more to examine the difference between genuine affection and the dance of courtly “love.” The knowledge of the inevitable ending lends a bit of knife-edged tension to the whole tale- the reader is just waiting to see what will lead to the Queen’s eventual undoing.
I think that this is a well-written version of tale of the ill-fated queen, and I hope that the fact that it’s Young Adult will grab the attention and imagination of a new population who may not yet have been exposed to historical fiction.
Four out of Five Emerald Brooches.