I saw Gilt by Katherine Longshore (Viking 2012) back in the spring, and I picked it up fully intending to give it to Sword Mistress or Rhymenocerous, our resident Tudor lovers, to review. The cover was waaay too romance-y for me, and the tagline is “PASSION. LIES. BETRAYAL. In the court of King Henry VIII, nothing is free– and love comes at the highest price of all. ” Ugggggghh. When I couldn’t even get through Meg Cabot’s pirate romance novel, I decided that it was not the genre for me, and now I don’t even bother any more. I do like historical fiction, though, and I had just started watching The Tudors, so I abandoned my good intentions to share and took Gilt to the gym with me to pass some Stairmaster Time despite my qualms about reading it in public. Even Fifty Shades of Grey has a more innocuous cover than this. I always judge people when I come in to find them watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Jersey Shore or some other useless drivel, so I assume that people will be judging me and my book by its cover. Turnabout is fair play, etc.
I made a good choice. This book is much more historical fiction than romance, and it was a fun read. Not being the Tudor lit aficionado that Rhymenocerous and Sword Mistress are, I wasn’t sure what to expect in a book about Catherine Howard. Everyone knows about Anne Boleyn, and I learned a lot about Katherine of Aragon thanks to Philippa Gregory’s The Constant Princess a few years ago, but I’m a little fuzzy on the other wives of Henry VIII. I wasn’t even sure how many of them there were (answer: six). Now I can say that I know a bit about wife #5, so three down, three to go. It’s convenient when my pleasure reading doubles as a history lesson. I can accomplish so much by multitasking.
Kitty Tylney and Cat Howard are best friends (yes, they are Kitty and Cat. Sadly, the author’s note doesn’t elaborate on whether they actually went by these nicknames. I truly hope that they did) living in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s house while they wait for their families to find them suitable husbands. For members of the aristocracy, they’re not exactly living in the lap of luxury. The Dowager Duchess has fancy things, but the girls in her care are wearing ragged clothes and sleeping 10 to a room (more when gentleman callers sleep over). The book opens with the two girls sneaking into the duchess’s room to try on her fancy clothes and jewelry because they don’t have nice things. There’s a lot of chatter about how much trouble they’ll be in if they get caught, but Cat likes to live dangerously, and Kitty doesn’t have enough backbone to think for herself. This little scene will replay itself many times over the course of the book, so if you’re not okay with this kind of friendship you should stop reading now – it’s only going to get worse, and you’ll just get more upset as the stakes get higher and higher. Minor indiscretions by a landless, fortuneless girl become treason when said girl becomes queen. And when the queen makes her preference for her childhood friends over the fancier ladies known to the whole court while she’s still in the king’s good graces, they all go down together when the truth comes out. Kitty’s sometimes-suitor William tries to warn her of what is coming, but Kitty is too tied up in Cat’s happiness to heed his sensible advice. You can practically hear Walk Away playing in the background as William tries to convince her to get out before the security blanket of being BFFs with the queen morphs into a noose. Kitty has already given her forever to Cat, though, and no amount of haranguing, belittling, shouting, being set up her with sleezy douches, and having to do the dirty work will make Kitty abandon her buddy. (iTunes is having a Ben Harper night. I went with the theme.) For those of you who slept through British History, Catherine follows Anne Boleyn to the chopping block. I learned from this book that being decapitated is a privilege for the nobility – less-fortunate men were drawn and quartered, while women were burned at the stake. The gruesome details really stick with you.
Embarrassing cover aside, I really enjoyed this book and I’ll probably read the next one in the series. This is, after all, an excellent way to get my history lessons in. Google doesn’t know what the next book is going to be about, though, so I can’t share that with you. We’ll all be surprised together when Viking gets around to announcing it. In the meantime, you, too, can learn about that wily Catherine Howard and her short reign as queen.