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.
Tell Me More: With the meteoric rise of Kate Middleton to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and future Queen of Britain came a renewed interest in the monarchy and its intrigues. Leading the pack, of course, is the infamous Henry VIII and his six wives. Catherine Howard, the third of her name to ascend to the throne, isn’t usually the first to come to people’s minds, and that is exactly what Gilt aims to change, with some unpredictable results. Simply put, your mileage may vary.
First things first: the cover is rather terrifying in context. As most people are aware that Henry VIII had almost all of his wives beheaded, the dull grey skin tone of the cover model is unsettling–is it supposed to be the deceased Catherine? The overt sexualization of the photograph is also worrisome: focus is placed on the lips and we are not shown the full girl, making her the sum of one part of her body. For a book aimed at teenagers, that kind of subconscious push is inappropriate and frankly, anti-feminist. Finally, from an aesthetic point of view, the colours, font and title placement just do not work together. If it was meant to highlight the garish nature of Henry’s court, then it succeeded.
Writing-wise, there isn’t much to say. With the exception of several anachronistic sayings like “shut up,” Katherine Longshore’s prose is suitable for the subject matter. The richness I was hoping for was absent from the story, but her writing style conveyed the story well enough. The narration, on the other hand, left me unsatisfied.
Kitty Tylney struck me as a mousy girl, timid and unwilling to face conflict. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t make for a heart-pounding, exciting story or main character. There were many moments where I wished the story had been told from Catherine’s point of view instead of Kitty, her “shadow.” Shadows by nature go unnoticed and don’t accomplish anything, and I never felt like I had to care about Kitty or her choices, especially when they were being made so far away from Catherine. In a sense, Catherine is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to Kitty’s straight man, which doesn’t work when they are constantly separated throughout the course of the book.
That separation also means that the reader isn’t given the full Tudor immersion. Longshore’s use of historical detail is impeccable, but it’s lost on a narrator that doesn’t experience the lavish and crazy intrigue of Henry’s court. The change that Kitty undergoes in the novel isn’t as powerful as it could have been, if she had been faced with the same moral conflicts as Catherine. Even the romances feel contrived and thrown in just to keep to the expected path of most historical YA novels. Kitty never really leaves the boundaries of her shadow self, and the choice to have her be the main character and tell this nerve of a story isn’t justified. Here’s hoping the next two books will feature heroines that take charge and do their utmost to chart their own way in a dangerous world.
The Final Say: Readers familiar with historical fiction may be left wanting more than Gilt is willing to give, with a main character that doesn’t quite know how to carry an entire story on her shoulders.
Katherine Longshore grew up on the northern California coast. At university, she created her own major in Cross-Cultural Studies and Communications, planning to travel and write. Forever. Four years, six continents, and countless pairs of shoes later, she went to England for two weeks, stayed five years, and discovered history. She now lives in California with her husband, two children, and a sun-worshiping dog.