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.
When I first heard about Gilt I was really excited to read it, and tried over and over to get my hands on an ARC. I was lucky enough to win an ARC via a contest on Shelf Awareness Pro, and once I received it, immediately dove into it. Unfortunately this book didn’t live up to my expectations. I so wanted to love it, but there were just things about it that really affected my overall enjoyment. Gilt reminded me of The Other Boleyn Girl, in terms of the fact that we’re talking about yet another of King Henry VIII’s wives, the story takes place in Henry’s court, and the book was a little slow to develop. However, unlike with Anne Boleyn in that book, we get to see some of Cat and Kitty’s childhoods. Another similarity is that both books are told from someone other than the Queen’s point of view: in The Other Boleyn Girl we got Anne’s sister, Mary, and in Gilt we got Katherine “Kitty” Tylney, Cat Howard’s best friend. However, while I enjoyed Mary, for the most part, Kitty really grated on me, for reasons I’ll get into below.
In my opinion, this book used language that was far too modern for the times. It was like Kitty and Cat were living in the 21st Century, instead of 16th Century England. When you’re writing historical fiction, and you want to draw your reader in and immerse them in the world you’re describing, it works better to use the turns of phrase of the times and have historical characters speak like they actually did. It just helps set the mood and the scene and make things more realistic. This book really failed in that, aside from the terms used to describe the dresses the girls wore (and we got a lot of that, because Cat is obsessed with fashions, and Kitty blindly tags along with her).
It was easier to put myself down than build up hope only to have it crushed. (pg. 199)
Our narrator, Kitty, is perhaps one of the weakest characters I have ever read. She is befriended by Cat when they are girls growing up in the Dowager Duchess’s house. Cat is the most popular, prettiest girl there, and Kitty sees herself as nothing more than Cat’s shadow. Cat is a master manipulator even at a young age, and basically can convince Kitty to do whatever she wants. Kitty has absolutely no spine whatsoever; she can’t think for herself, she can’t stand up to Cat (even when she knows Cat is wrong and/or making mistakes) and she is willfully blind to Cat’s faults. This makes her a very hard main character to warm up to, at least for me personally. I have a big problem with characters that are little more than doormats, and instead of feeling sorry for her, I spent the wide majority of the book being thoroughly frustrated with her. It did not make for the most enjoyable reading experience.
Cat had used me my entire life. Made me do things I didn’t want to do … She had taken away the things I loved. Convinced me to do things I knew were wrong. But I always came back for more. So who was at fault? (pg. 376)
And then we have Cat, who is also SO unlikable I just couldn’t stand her. While Kitty allows herself to be used by Cat, it is Cat herself that just sees no reason not to use whatever or whomever is at her disposal to do what she wants. This only intensifies when she becomes Queen, because now she has the royal standing to do so. She brings Kitty and the other girls to court mainly because they know her secrets, and she doesn’t want anyone to spill them, as that could put her marriage to the King in jeopardy. She also endangers their lives while they’re at court when she includes them in her adultery; they are aware of her affair with Culpepper, and it makes them culpable to treason, which could cost them their heads. All Cat is concerned with is herself: her pretty dresses, her jewels, her station in life. She spares absolutely no thought to anyone but herself. She is perhaps the most conceited character I’ve ever read about, and I felt absolutely no sympathy for her plight at all.
I had wanted to be at court. Because it was what Cat wanted. I hadn’t thought for myself since I was eight years old. And when I did, I spoke too late. (pg. 343)
While Kitty did finally speak up to Cat (only after they were all in trouble, mind), like her doing so was too late to make a difference, her growing a spine was too late for me to warm to her, or this book. The entire thing was just really disappointing for me. Now obviously, because this is based on historical fact, it could be that Kitty really was a doormat and Cat really was a horrid person who used others; I don’t know if this is true, because I don’t know very much about Catherine Howard, and I don’t think too much is really known about Kitty Tylney at all. But both girls were just really difficult for me to read, and it definitely made the book itself suffer in its tale.
If nothing else, this was a book that shed light on King Henry VIII’s fifth of six wives. It gave me some history behind Catherine Howard, and detailed her fall from grace. I definitely learned some new information about the time, and Henry’s court. But the story itself just wasn’t terribly enjoyable, at least not for me.
Nonetheless, I have seen plenty of excellent ratings for this book, so don’t just take my word for it. Gilt will be available in North America on May 15, 2012.
An ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes come from an uncorrected ARC.