Title: The Perilous Gard
Author: Elizabeth Marie Pope
Pub. Date: 1971
In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk—whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice.
Genre: YA, Fantasy
While blogs are rife with the newest releases, older books are pushed aside and nearly forgotten. I absolutely love reading older books and when I heard about a YA gem from the 70s, my ears perked up. How was it that The Perilous Gard, a historical fantasy classic and Newbery winner, managed to evade my notice all these years?
After reading the reviews on goodreads (this book has a 4.14/5 rating!) and seeing nothing but glowing remarks, I knew I needed to find this book and quick. Luckily one of the libraries in my system had a copy and a few days later I was holding it in my hands.
She sat up, punching her pillow vindictively into shape. It was all very well for a hero in a romance, like Sir Launcelot, to break his heart – how did it go? – “run mad in the wilderness”; but in her opinion Sir Launcelot has behaved very foolishly. Somebody ought to have stopped him.
From the very first page The Perilous Gard had my attention. Katherine Sutton – Kate – and her sister Alicia are Princess Elizabeth’s attendants. After a particularly disastrous letter of Alicia’s reaches Queen Mary, Kate is the one who suffers the consequence. As part of her punishment, Kate is sent to live at Perilous Gard, an ancient castle in northern England.
Upon arriving in the village, Kate learns that something if…off. There’s something strange going on, what with the villagers becoming visibly shocked and frightened by her arrival and the sudden disappearance of multiple children. The castle’s inhabitants are refusing to talk and the villagers’ firm belief in the Fairy Folk leave Kate confused. It’s not until Christopher Heron, the younger brother of the castle’s head, shares the story of what really happened the night his 4-year old niece disappeared that Kate wonders whether or not there might be some truth to the ancient beliefs.
Let’s chat about Kate for a moment, okay? I. Loved. Her. She’s smart and strong and level-headed, which is certainly something that can’t be said about many heroines today. Her younger sister is beautiful and charming and perfect at her duties, while Kate struggles with her sewing and speech. Naturally her exile angers her, but she sees it through. After discovering Christopher has been guilt-ridden over Cecily’s disappearance, Kate’s determined to find her and not for an instant does she falter in her decision.
Kate soon uncovers secrets within the castle and ultimately finds herself among the Fairy Folk. Down in the depths of the caverns and caves, their world is completely black. It’s enough to make any person mad, but Kate keeps her wits about her and stands her ground against the Queen.
She had always somehow, in her secret heart, never thought of him except in a world of knights and ladies, the sort of world that one read about in the old romances, where hermits knelt praying among the gray rocks and champions rode out to slay dragons from high turreted castles – not the sort of castles that could ever go to ruin because the scrub had not been cleaned out of the water meadows and there was no money for the ditching and the drainage.
Take note, YA authors: this is how romance should be done. Kate and Christopher’s relationship takes the course of the book to come to fruition. They start out as strangers – stubborn Christopher barely glances at Kate – then a friendship and companionship develops, ultimately leading to romance. It was slow and quiet and absolutely perfect. Kate and Christopher each have flaws and the other not only acknowledges those flaws (no drop-dead gorgeous, perfect people here), but accepts those flaws and it’s all I can do not to type a wall of exclamation points. ♥ Sheer brilliance.
Although The Perilous Gard does take place in the 1500s, apart from a single mention of the ‘current’ fashion and Elizabeth/Mary’s reign, this book could take place at any point in history. Another thing I want to make note of is that this book is not an edge-of-your-seat, thrill-a-minute kind of book. Yes there is action, and yes it is an adventure (with human sacrifices!), but it does so in a very quiet, almost sleepy way that made the book an absolute joy. Despite never having read this book before, I felt as though I was revisiting a childhood favorite; there was something incredibly comforting about the story and the characters and even the Fairy Folk.
If The Perilous Gard is completely new to you as well, I HIGHLY urge you to get to your library or a bookstore (I’ll definitely be buying my own copy) and pick this up. I’m shocked it’s taken me so long to find out about it, but now that I have I know I’ll be rereading it for years to come.