Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Why have I never discovered this book before now?? This book is so up my alley it comes out in my bedroom closet. I would have devoured this book as a teenager; would have re-read it to tatters like my Robin McKinley and my Narnia.

All I can say is thank goodness for bloggers. I heard the book mentioned often enough by people  I trust that I finally decided to track it down.

And thank goodness for interlibrary loans! (Have you discovered this miracle? I hope you have it in your community. I can get a book from anywhere in BC sent to my local library, all done online with a few clicks. Amazing!) (There's a copy of The Perilous Gard in Sechelt. Would you like to request it? Why, yes I would, thank you. Click. You will be notified when your book is available for pick up. So easy!)

Right. The book.

The quick way to summarize The Perilous Gard is to say it's a version of Tam Lin, set at the time of Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, in a marvellous castle on a hill with a well in a cave.  But that doesn't begin to convey how perfect this book is.

I love Kate Sutton so much. What a heroine! Smart and stubborn and brave. Not just smart: rational. She asks the right questions; she sees things as they are. Her practicality can't be beaten out of her by the spookiest forces of evil. She is now my number one candidate for who to bring along in case self-serving cold-hearted manipulative scary folk need talking back to. (And she's not snarky about it, either. Just clever and, and irrepressible. No, that makes her sound bouncy. She's not bouncy, she's a rock. Indefatigable. Unbowed.) She and Jane Eyre would be bosom buddies.

I loved Christopher, his anguish, his bravery. Loved how it's so obvious he **slight spoiler, highlight to read** is falling in love with Kate—and for all the right reasons—and she has no idea. Loved their conversations. Loved all the conversations, actually. Great dialog.

I love the take on fairies. Pope uses all the traditional lore, but does something quite different with it, and they were very real and quite horrifying. What the Lady does at the end . . . oh, my.

Loved the setting. So specifically described I wonder if there is a real castle she was using as a template. She describes things so well—the writing is spare and poetical; she always has just the right metaphor to convey exactly what a person or place or feeling is.

The plot is perfect. Guess I can't say anything about it without spoilers, but it unfolded at exactly the right pace in an entirely satisfactory way. I really like this version of the Tam Lin story—I would call it a feminist retelling; what do you think? Wonderful ending.

**This paragraph is a bit spoilery, so highlight it if you want to read it.** I also love the fact that Christianity is actually the force for good for once. (Not in an in-your-face way—it's very subtle.) I don't mind the whole druids-are-the-keepers-of-the-land and ignorant-Christians-come-trample-and-destroy-what-they-don't-understand take on things; there's enough history to justify that angle and it makes for great fantasy. But here we have a story where "taking care of the land" requires human sacrifice (Elizabeth Pope was an English professor; pretty sure she studied The Golden Bough), and maybe that's not something that should be celebrated and preserved. Maybe some things need to be defeated and some holy places ought to be pulled down. I thought Pope's slight use of Christian theology as Kate tries to counter the Lady's reasoning was brilliantly done.

This book should be much better known than it is. I'm desolated that Pope only wrote two novels, but I'm greatly hoping interlibrary loan will come through for me with the second of her books, The Sherwood Ring.

Delicious and satisfying as raspberry rhubarb pie.


  1. I need to try this book again. I read it and wasn't wild about it, years ago, but I think my expectations were unrealistically high. Now I have nice matching copies of this and Pope's other book, The Sherwood Ring, and I want to reread them and see how that goes.

  2. I've been "saving" The Perilous Gard ever since I read and loved The Sherwood Ring. Someday I'll read it, but I like knowing I have a good book in reserve in times of need. I hope you love The Sherwood Ring as much! I treasure that book and really should do a reread soon.

  3. i just reread the Perilous Gard as an adult and I still love it! Perfect plot, perfect heroine (you are so right -she and Jane Eyre would be friends!) in the right hands it would be a great movieI I am going to look for The Sherwood Ring in our library, since I've never read it.