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Retro Friday Review: The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

It’s 1558, and sisters Katherine and Alicia Sutton attend Queen Mary’s sister Lady Elizabeth, who’s been sent to live at the sea in Hatfield out of the Queen’s jealous hatred. Alicia is pretty and doe-eyed. Kate is plain and clumsy and inherited the piercing looks and brains of her grandfather. Through no fault of her own but the silly folly of her sister, Kate has angered the Queen herself and is soon exiled from court. Of all places she is sent to be under strict guard at Elvenwood Hall, a remote castle rumored to be a “perilous gard” or gateway to an underground world of Fairy Folk. Sensible Kate is determined not to believe the rumors and anticipates a quiet, uneventful exile until she meets the young mysterious Christopher Heron and learns of the disappearance of her guardian’s young daughter Cecily at the Holy Well and the rumors begin to come true.

I only read this a few years ago, but The Perilous Gard definitely flies under-the-radar as it was originally published in 1974. It doesn’t feel dated though and is definitely worth reading for fairy lovers and historical fantasy fans alike. The writing is so smooth and easy to read and captured me from the first page. The forest and castle setting is very atmospheric and the Fairy Folk and their Underhill enchanted me. It’s no surprise that this retelling of the Tam Lin ballad is a Newbery Honor book. Kate is a strong, independent heroine who really comes into her own. I especially love the banter between her and Christopher Heron. The fairy world is richly drawn; at times mysterious, entrancing, and frightening. Pope knows her stuff; she spent most of her career as an English professor specializing in Elizabethan England. Unfortunately she only wrote this and The Sherwood Ring, but I will definitely be recommending and re-reading both.

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