Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gilt (The Royal Circle #1) – Katherine Longshore

In British history, nobody brought the drama quite like the Tudors, and in all of history, no royal went through wives quite like Henry VIII. Many are familiar with wifey #2, Anne Boleyn, the ill-fated vixen and mother of future queen, Elizabeth I, but Henry later had another wife who met with the same headless end – that would be wifey #5, Catherine Howard. (As good a story as Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall was in season two of Showtime’s ‘The Tudors,’ season four featuring Catherine Howard’s story arc was the most haunting and my personal favorite.)

Gilt is told from the viewpoint of Catherine’s best friend, Kitty. The girls grow up as wards together in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s house, where teenaged Cat acts as mistress of ceremonies entertaining the other girls and sneaking boys in for visits. Francis Dereham is one of the boys Cat takes special interest in – so much so that she brings him into the bed she shares with Kitty. Awwwkward for Kitty! The girls dream of escape, and nothing would be more glamorous than for them to one day serve in the royal court of the king. After some machinations on the part Cat’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, Cat gets her wish to go live at the court and serve as a lady-in-waiting for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, but not before promising Kitty she will one day send for her to join her there.

Sure enough, once at court Cat works her feminine wiles on Henry - only thirty years her senior and no longer the svelte, hot ginge he was in years past. Cat makes the king feel young and desirable again, unlike the fuddy-dud he foolishly took as his fourth wife, so Henry quickly gets his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled and takes Catherine as his *gulp* fifth wife. True to her word, Cat sends for Kitty and her other besties, Joan and Alice, to serve as her chamber maids.

Kitty always dreamed life in the royal court would be exciting; unfortunately, the kind of exciting Cat attracts is dangerous. A huge flirt, Cat takes up with the dashing Thomas Culpepper, who happens to be one of the king’s favorite courtiers and close associates, as he’s responsible for dressing the king. Kitty remembers Thomas from her days at the Duchess of Norfolk’s house, though, when she accidentally stumbled upon him raping a woman. Nice guy, eh? Worse, Cat keeps pushing one of Thomas’s closest friends, Edmund, on her. Edmund is a babe for sure, but he was with Thomas the day he raped the girl and did nothing to stop him...not that she did either, as Edmund pointedly reminds her when she confronts him on the matter. Kitty’s not even sure if Edmund really likes her…or likes the idea of the chase more. Then there’s the boy she really likes, William, who may only be a lowly secretary for the Duke of Norfolk, but sincerely seems to have Kitty’s best interests at heart. When word reaches the king that his young wife isn’t as virginal as she originally claimed and may even be an adulteress, a crime punishable by death, all hell breaks loose in the court as those closest to the king and queen scramble to get their stories straight and save their own necks.

You don’t have to be a history buff or fan of historical fiction to get caught up in this royal intrigue. The characters, including Kitty, are all based on actual people and events, and Longshore does her best to stay true to history with a few imaginative embellishments along the way. We know how things end for Catherine, but it’s Kitty who the reader ultimately sympathizes with and worries for her fate.

Longshore plans to write other novels centered around the court of Henry VIII, though not necessarily in sequential order. There’s certainly a goldmine of people and plotlines there to choose from! To learn more about the author and Gilt, visit Longshore’s website at http://katherinelongshore.com/ .

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