Gilt by Katherine Longshore
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Right after I read this book, I found out that Katherine Longshore had the launch party for Gilt right here in town, and I didn’t know about it. I’m rather annoyed that I missed meeting her, because teen novels dealing with the reign of Henry VIII are few and far between. Focusing on his short marriage to his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, the novel follows the doomed queen’s rise and fall in a story that can’t fail to draw readers into this tumultuous historic period.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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.”
Reading this book was an interesting experience for someone like me, who is already fairly well-versed in Tudor history. However, this book was written for a teen audience, who likely doesn’t have the same knowledge, and so my knowing how things would turn out is probably not something that would occur a lot. It does allow me to say with some authority that Longshore did a great job with her research. The historic events are accurate and portrayed with just enough detail to gain attention and not overwhelm.
Interestingly, this novel uses absolutely no completely fictional characters. In her afterword, Longshore says that even the two men in Kitty’s life—William and Edmund—were drawn from real life people, although they are people that nothing is known about beyond single mentions in period documents. The author is therefore free to make of them what she will, within the constraints of the time. Longshore also made wise choices in Catherine Howard—not only a teenager, but the queen about whom perhaps the least is known—but in Kitty Tylney, who was a virtual non-entity among Cat’s ladies. Like with the men, the author uses this lack of knowledge to build her characters nearly from scratch.
This novel has to walk a delicate line: the book is intended for a teen audience, but it can’t escape the inclusion of sex. Catherine Howard’s main function as queen was to bear a son, and her treason charge came from her sexual relationship with the king’s groom, Thomas Culpepper. The author doesn’t shy away from the subject, but she does manage to keep the story from straying too far towards the prurient. And of course, not everything that happens in this vein is pleasant, but the author still handles this well.
What I really liked is that the author didn’t try to romanticize the period or shy away from the realities of life in the Tudor era. She makes references to the fact that places and people often smell bad, buildings are drafty and difficult to heat, social constraints for women are stifling, and political maneuvering can get you executed. At the same time, she conveys the fact that this court was considered to be bright and lively, glittering and lush. The court itself is a reflection of the book’s title, a veneer of shine over something dull and ugly. This metaphor extends to the people as well, with people like Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper little more than pretty manners over less attractive personalities.
Longshore’s use of language is just as lush and sensuous as the time period she’s writing about. My favorite bit is the following: “Her words hung in the silence that followed them like spiders suspended from the ceiling. They could creep away unobserved or continue down their silken strings and bite the unwary.” I love such evocative imagery. Beautiful language is a great companion to the type of story being told.
While I might be disappointed that I missed a chance to meet the author, I’m certainly not disappointed in the book. Gilt introduces teen readers and adults alike to the deadly beauty of the court of Henry VIII. This book is as rich and sumptuous as the period it portrays, and it serves as a good introduction to the life of a tragic queen and the mistakes that claimed her life.
Also by this author: Tarnish
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 11, 2012.