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.
Katherine (Kitty) Tylney is the story’s pushover main character, bosom friend of Catherine (Cat) Howard, a girl who makes it her life’s goal to have fun, gain power, and live only for herself, regardless of who she hurts on her way. I identified with Kitty at some times, recognizing the feelings of being ignored while close friends get all the attention; the heady elation felt when you, the invisible one, are finally noticed; and the strong inner emotions of discovering betrayal and the self-deprecation that comes when you let something happen that you knew would bring terrible consequences.
The author tries to stay true to history as much as possible while weaving an intriguing story, and so because of that, Kitty remains invisible and does not move history as I hoped she would. She lets Cat, and others, walk all over her. She has an inner strength that she rarely lets shine. Knowing her strength and seeing her continue to stifle it over and over again was emotionally draining! I wanted to see Kitty defend herself—wondered when she would stand up for herself, but it almost never happens. It was this desire to see her rise up and fight for the good in this story that made me keep turning the pages. In spite of the continuous disappointment (which, in the end, is inevitable if Longshore was to stay true to historical facts), the book drew me in because the main characters were so well-written.
There are several characters who, though primary, fell flat (I kept getting Alice and Joan mixed up and couldn’t really ‘see’ them in my mind), but the other characters’ depth is what overshadowed them.
One caveat is the almost unending web of sexual manipulation, innuendo, and promiscuity. There are not graphic sex scenes (although there is a rape scene, it is not written in full detail—only describes the horrific nature of it) but continuous sexual language and lust. This ties into the destructive nature of Cat’s (and others’) life—the pursuit of sex and power and riches leads only to…nothing. The hollow pursuits of almost every person in this story bring to light the reality of their consequences. In the end I think it is obvious how much of a waste Catherine’s life ended up being, and it is sadly eye-opening. Because of this, I think this book should a) not be read by girls younger than say, 15—and read with discussion following—and, b) could be helpful in that it shows how living only for yourself and pursuing sex, riches, and power lead to naught. I finished feeling deeply in my heart how important it is to make life so much MORE than this—and I think this book could show teenagers the same. It will leave the reader thinking, “Who cares about jewels and riches and lust—I want deep, real relationship, honesty, and meaning in my life.”
I felt that everything was a bit too drawn out, possibly too much detail went into the setting and time that I could’ve done without. I understand Katherine Longshore wanted to establish a setting and clue those in who aren’t too familiar with history, but it got to the point where I found myself skipping over paragraphs and basically only reading the dialogue, which I tend to do when a book bores me.
I’d have to say probably the only thing that kept me going was the drama that Catherine Howard created and I wanted to know how and when she would meet her ultimate demise. True to her character, I knew exactly how her life would go and where it would end up and found her to be more interesting than Kitty, the narrator of the story. Even though Kitty is a sweet, innocent character, utterly loyal to Catherine until the end, I wasn’t really drawn to her character. The ending was a bit predictable, since it is learned history, and nothing in the book really stood out to me in any way.
Overall, Longshore does a great job in staying true to historical facts, painting a vivid picture of history, and inciting intrigue, but the story as a whole failed to capture my attention and I basically skimming it until the end.
One thing that often frustrates me about the Tudors, even the show (which I largely enjoyed) is the romanticizing of Henry. Partly, this is because he tends to be younger in much of the fiction, a lot of which focuses on Anne Boleyn. I'm not saying Henry doesn't come off as a womanizing bastard (he does), but he also generally seems like he gets so much play because he's attractive and charismatic. Again, I think that was fairly true when he was young, although I definitely think much of his appeal had to do with the crown even then. However, as he got older, he got fat and had serious health issues. I love Katherine Longshore for displaying Henry as what he really was.
I totally get why shows make Henry more attractive (who wants to watch some guy who looks like that?), but that doesn't make it accurate, and there's less of a reason for it in fiction. That seems unfair to say, but oh well. The same is true of Catherine, who is portrayed as a completely fetching blonde in the show, but pictures reveal her to be somewhat plain. In Gilt, Cat is described not as beautiful, but as vivacious and so charming no one can tell that she's not gorgeous.
What really drew me into Gilt, though, is Kitty. I identified so much with Kitty and her desperation. She has nobody and she wants so badly to believe that she has a real friend in Cat. She is loyal to a fault (a big one). For the most part, I really am not like Kitty, but I liked Kitty so much, and I just kept hoping she would make the right decisions such as avoiding ruinous people.
There are so many right bastards (both literally and figuratively I'm sure) walking around Henry's court. Women's options were so incredibly limited. Of course, there were also the freedoms that they had. I cannot believe how easy it was for women to be, well, easy. Even in a dormitory packed full of beds, with more than one girl per bed no less, girls managed to carry out affairs; there's nothing awkward about that. Don't even get me started on the rage I feel about how men could rape any woman they wanted to and claim that she wanted it, so obviously it's her fault. Instead, I will let Kitty send that message in my favorite quote. I love her when she has a backbone.
Gilt is truly wonderful. I laughed, I was grossed out, I was enraged and I nearly cried. Gilt really is a lot like a more historically accurate, YA version of The Tudors. There's sex, backstabbing and dirty jokes galore. I loved every single minute of it. If you enjoy reading all of those things, get thee to a bookstore anon!