Review: Gilt by Katherine Longshore

Saturday, May 12, 2012
Title: Gilt
Genre: historical fiction, young-adult
Series: The Royal Circle #1
Pages: 416 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected May 15 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5
In the Tudor age, ambition, power and charismatic allure are essential and Catherine Howard has plenty of all three. Not to mention her loyal best friend, Kitty Tylney, to help cover her tracks. Kitty, the abandoned youngest daughter of minor aristocracy, owes everything to Cat – where she is, what she is, even who she is. Friend, flirt, and self-proclaimed Queen of Misrule, Cat reigns supreme in a loyal court of girls under the none-too-watchful eye of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

But when Cat worms her way into the heart of Henry VIII and becomes Queen of England, Kitty is thrown into the intoxicating Tudor Court. It’s a world of glittering jewels and elegant costumes, of gossip and deception. As the Queen’s right-hand-woman, Kitty goes from the girl nobody noticed to being caught between two men – the object of her affection and the object of her desire.

Over the course of one gaudy, chaotic year, Kitty is forced to learn the difference between trust and loyalty, love and lust, secrets and treason. And when the tide begins to turn against the young Queen, Kitty discovers all too late the true weight of the diamond collar around Cat’s neck.

Sometimes, with entertainment like books and television shows, it's good to take in the pure fun side of things, the guilty pleasures one doesn't necessarily advertise as favorites. I for one, am a biiig fan of hilariously bad television, like Glee, and GCB. Much like GCB, new young-adult offering Gilt isn't the most sophisticated adaption of its source material but it is hard to stop reading from the get-go. Also like the ill-fated GCB, this historical fiction jaunt into the 16th century isn't a long-lasting endeavor; though Gilt clocks in at nearly 400 pages in the official hardback edition, those pages fly by in the unputdownable telling of Katherine "Kitty" Tylney's narrative. I definitely didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I need, nor that I would rate it 4 stars when finished, despite the anachronisms and issues that do plague the novel. However, the expansive amounts of entertainment I gleaned from the few hours it took to read more than make Katherine Longshore's  Tudoor historical debut one of the best guilty pleasures of 2012.

I found the friendship between Cat Howard and Kitty Tylney to be compelling, in a very sick and twisted fashion. Many of Cat's maids were warped by the Queen's manipulations, but it is poor, desperate and unloved Kitty that takes the cake. Even by looking at the nicknames chosen for each girl (by Cat, no less), it's an obvious power-imbalance between the two, with Kitty being the pale reflection of Cat's vaunted life. Gilt takes pains to make clear fairly early on how callous and dumb Cat is, and Kitty's dependence on the whims of an overly petulant child spell doom from the first chapter on. Katherine Tylney was a real courtier at the court of Henrey VIII, but very little is known about her, either before or after the trial of Queen Catherine. Whoever she might have been, I have to hope that the real woman had more backbone than the one shown here. While I thoroughly and completely enjoyed her narrative, Kitty herself is a limp dishrag, a doormat who refuses to speak up for anything. It's hard to root for such a limp, weak person but the growth and self-worth her character needs is delayed but there. Eventually. Cat is compelling to read about in her hell-bent cruise for destruction - even knowing what happens to nearly every character before starting, Longshore made the ride to the expected end indelibly her own.

Despite Gilt being a debut and the first in a new series, you wouldn't know it from reading it; it flows admirably well, the looming and known demise hanging offsides and off screen. Katherine Longshore easily and quickly establishes herself as quite the natural storyteller, with the appropriate touches of foreboding and lightheartedness. Though Kitty may defy basic rules of human anatomy for 95% of the novel (because she lacks a spine... ba dum dum ch!), her story and life as Cat Howard's shadow is entirely compelling. The quick-moving pacing of the novel does it many favors as well, for as the Court moves house fresh dangers and problems await at each new locale. The author also has an obvious and natural hand for evoking a feeling of atmosphere using her words - one can really feel the tension and fear build and build as the novel progresses. A note on the title of this - I  cmopletely love it; it's absolutely perfect for the novel of intrigue and backbiting it announces. I love that one single word manages to be double, and even triple-layered with meaning for the novel itself and the characters therein. Subtly alluding to the glamor that masks the danger as well as the guilt of its main characters for their respective misdeeds, the title more than compensates for the less-than-ideal cover. If the language used in the book had been more accurate and less modern ("bitchy" and "shut up"? Really?), Gilt could very well have been a 4.5 or a 5 for me, so much so was my love for the majority of this novel. 

With just the right touches of drama, romance, and betrayal set amid a glittering Court of jewels and lies, Gilt is sure to find a wide audience. Though it may not be the most high-brow of historical/Tudor fiction, it is obvious that the author has done credible research and knows her source material quite well. Outside of the dialogue and vocabulary misused, there is little to complain about and a lot to enjoy. I can't wait for more from this author and this series.

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