First Lines: “You’re not going to steal anything.” I left the questioin–Are you?–off the end of the sentence. But Cat heard it anyway.
You guys, I have committed the reader’s Cardinal Sin: I judged a book by its cover. I’d seen this book around for a while, but I thought the cover was ugly…and frankly, it weirds me out. It looks like a cold, blue dead body. So I never picked it up because ew. It wasn’t until I started getting interested in this author’s newer books that I decided I needed to give this a shot.
Kitty Tylney doesn’t think she’ll ever move out of the shadow of her best friend, Catherine Howard. Cat is beautiful and vivacious and a natural leader. Kitty…isn’t. Then Cat worms her way into the court of King Henry VIII–before she sneaks into his heart as well. Cat brings Kitty along as a favored maid, and Kitty begins to discover that court is not just about beautiful gowns and dazzling parties. Behind smiles are deadly secrets, behind a curtsy is a desire to see someone fall from grace. Kitty is soon entangled in many of Cat’s secrets…secrets that could literally cost Kitty her head. Once you’ve been up at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.
I am an avid fan of history, and King Henry VIII’s court is one of infamy. It really is too bad sometimes that we remember him merely for being a fat aging king who lost interest in his wives at the drop of a foul word. He’s such an interesting figure, and he’s more than that. …But admittedly, he’s gained that reputation for a reason.
Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on my Tudor history, so I didn’t quite remember all of Cat Howard’s story. Which was fine for this. And even if I did know her history, I don’t think it would have ruined the story any.
The characters are really interesting. There are actually despicable characters, in the “well-written because the point is to hate them” kind of way. I love to hate those kinds of characters. It was a different world in 1540, so Kitty runs across a lot of sexist characters that just infuriated me.
Kitty is a headstrong female character, though she does tend to bow (literally and metaphorically!) to Cat’s wants. It was an interesting juxtaposition because Kitty is quite firm about a few things. And then other things…she just lets Cat decide.
Cat is the kind of character you want to hate, but you feel just a little too much sympathy for them to really pull it off. Cat is selfish, self-centered, and manipulative. That becomes apparent from the first few chapters. It’s really not a surprise that she fell into Henry’s court as a teenager. But there’s also something about her that inspires sympathy. Even queens lacked choices and the ability to make their own decisions.
It was also really cool to compare Kitty’s place in the palace (as a “chamberer” or chamber maid) to Cat’s royalty. There were striking differences in their lives and strange similarities. But even being a maid brought Kitty a lot of privilege. Again, 1541 was a completely different world.
And the plot. I love court intrigue. Mostly, the plot just follows Cat and the court, though Kitty does have a plot line that is entirely her own. (Let’s just say some courtiers are quite dashing.) But I love the secrets and reading between what people say and what they mean. It’s fascinating that this is actually how people lived their lives.
One thing I’m torn about is the language. The speech/speech patterns between the characters is quite modern, which made it harder for me to take it seriously that this was set nearly 500 years ago. But at the same time, I realize that makes the book accessible to its demographic. Torn, I tell you.
Truly an interesting historical fiction if you’re into Tudor history. A lot of the big players make appearances, and all those faces and names suddenly get personalities.