The short and tragic life of Catherine Howard, the teenage fifth wife of Henry VIII of England, is told through the eyes of her closest friend and confidante, Kitty Tylney. The two girls are raised in the emotionally vacant household of their relative, the Duchess of Norfolk, but everything changes when Catherine is sent to represent the Howard family in the glittering but dangerous Tudor court.
Gilt excels at bringing the well-known story of Catherine Howard to younger readers. However, the language and expressions of the main characters are often too modern, and sacrifice what would otherwise be an atmospheric and truthful rendering of the times. Kitty Tylney is sensible yet awkward, though her steadiness makes her a more relatable heroine in contrast to gorgeous Catherine. However her inner struggle between two men, one who is far superior to the other, is somewhat tired and melodramatic. Her secondary struggle to be Catherine’s conscience was a better and more interesting purpose for her character.
Even though a very unsympathetic character, Catherine steals the show with her antics. Spoilt and impetuous, cunning but not clever, she is the original “frenemy” that subjugates her closest friends into doing her bidding. She is at times vivacious to the point of mania and at other times depressed and hopeless. Longshore could have used the circumstances of the young queen’s downfall to add some interesting layers to this otherwise wholly expected characterization. Instead Catherine is relegated to being an empty-headed flirt at best, and, at worst, a selfish adulterer bent on biting the hand that elevated her so high.
Nonetheless, Gilt is an entertaining read that gives a broad overview of a tumultuous time period and would be best suited for older teens due to mature content.