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The Perilous Gard

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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.

280 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1974

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About the author

Elizabeth Marie Pope

4 books123 followers
Born in Washington D.C. on May 1, 1917, Pope later graduated from Bryn Mawr College and then earned her Ph. D. in English literature from John Hopkins University. Next she began teaching at Mills College in Oakland, California and remained there for many years. Beginning as an assistant professor and moving up to hold the position of professor and chairman of the department, Pope excelled as an instructor. Also an author, Pope concentrated mostly on Milton, Shakespeare, and Elizabethan England, and she traveled abroad in order to do historical research for her book The Perilous Guard which was selected for the Newbery Honor Book Award in 1975. Pope passed away in 1992.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 861 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
November 24, 2019
Of the several Tam Lin retellings I've read, the classic YA novel The Perilous Gard is a standout. I frequently sing the praises of Pamela Dean's version of Tam Lin, while knowing full well that that novel will only appeal to a limited subset of the fraction of readers who like fairy tale novelizations. Well, The Perilous Gard is for readers who prefer a more traditional retelling of Tam Lin. (It also, by the way, leaves out the racier aspects of the Tam Lin story - the woman who saves her lover from the fairy queen is pregnant with his child- so this one's safe for the younger crowd, but still complex and intriguing enough for adult fantasy readers.)

In this 1974 Newbery Honor book, the Fairy Folk are an ancient and mysterious Druid-like people living in caves deep under the earth. The year is 1558. Queen Mary is on the throne, and Lady Elizabeth (later to be Queen Elizabeth I) is exiled to a drafty English manor house with a few ladies in waiting, including Kate, who is intelligent and awkward, and her lovely but airheaded younger sister Alicia.

Kate has been blamed for something Alicia has done (which is par for the course) and is exiled even further away, to the northernmost parts of England. There is something very strange about the mansion she is sent to live in, called the Perilous Gard, as well as the people who live in this house, including a troubled young man named Christopher, and the frightened and highly superstitious villagers.

But it turns out that the villagers have good reasons to be fearful and superstitious, and Christopher, excellent reasons to be troubled. His four year old niece Cecily disappeared some time ago, and he blames himself for her loss. Christopher and his older brother, Sir Geoffrey, try to tell Kate to mind her own business and stay out of trouble:
"You know the old proverb that there's no sense meddling in what you can't mend? - Didn't your father ever say that to you?"

Kate nodded a little doubtfully. "Well," she began, "he -"

"Then you take his advice if you won't take mine. He has the name of being a wise man, your father."

The corner of Kate's mouth quivered very slightly. She had often heard her father quote that proverb; he said it was invented by fools to save them the trouble of thinking.
So Kate, of course, decides to dig into the mystery, and after some initial resistance, Christopher takes her into his confidence. Gradually Christopher and Kate begin to piece the clues together and realize (we're getting into spoilerish territory here now) It's up to Kate to use her wits to try to save both Christopher and herself.

This is a very good version of the Tam Lin tale, with a subtle magical realism to it, but what kicks it up from 4 stars to 5 for me is the outstanding ending. The last twenty pages contain a surprise or two for both Kate and the reader, and are both heartwarming and a great life lesson.

I love this book (I've read it at least 3 or 4 times over the years) and highly recommend it, for both young and older readers.
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,751 reviews614 followers
February 13, 2020
An excellent story reworking the legend of Tam Lin, that is my first read of a retelling for this story that's a Beauty and the Beast type of tale from the British Isles.

I'd already read Pope's only other book and loved it, so I expected this to be good despite my doubts over the period setting (Tudor England). It didn't disappoint, but it does have less of the couple chemistry, the humour and the charm of "The Sherwood Ring" to me. I did like the impressive balance of historical realism and magical elements the author was able to pull out, and how she accounted for the existence of the "fairy folk" very plausibly. It was like seeing how Tam Lin could've really gone down sans the shapeshifting and the high fantasy elements.
Profile Image for Sarah.
237 reviews1,114 followers
December 26, 2017
Books like The Perilous Gard remind me of why I love to read.

Our story begins in England, summer of 1558, in an unpleasant castle where Princess Elizabeth Tudor keeps a small retinue, ever watched and harassed by her angry half-sister, Queen Mary. I knew right away that I was in good hands because Elizabeth Marie Pope conveys deftly that Mary bullied Elizabeth without making the older royal out to be a one-dimensional monster.

One of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, a stupid beauty named Alicia Sutton, writes an angry letter to Queen Mary complaining of the conditions at Hatfield. Mary is infuriated by the letter, but believes Alicia too sweet and witless a creature to have composed it herself, so the royal punishment falls instead on the head of Katherine, Alicia’s plain-looking and plain-spoken older sister.

Princess Elizabeth has no choice but to send her friend Katherine to the place “suggested” by the Queen: Sir Geoffrey Heron’s desolate manor, Elvenwood Hall, sometimes called the Perilous Gard. Elizabeth promises to retrieve Katherine as soon as she has the power, but that doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future…

Kate soon discovers a number of things awry at the house in the spooky Elvenwood. Her host, Sir Geoffrey, is the picture of chivalry to her, but won’t even acknowledge his younger brother, the troubled and handsome Christopher. Sir Geoffrey’s little daughter is missing or dead, and everyone has a different story regarding what became of her. Master John, the steward of the house, is keeping secrets from the household he serves. The poor folk in the nearby village live in a constant state of servile dread, and it is not the family of the castle that frightens them. And rumors swirl of a malevolent race, human-like but not human, who live in a labyrinth below the ancient town well and are responsible for all manner of dark deeds in the neighborhood…

Pope’s writing is meticulous, and this novel does not leave a single thread of its tapestry dangling. Every detail becomes important by the end.

The world-building is so thorough that you might feel a wave of homesickness for the Gard once you put the book down.

The characters, particularly Kate and Christopher, are lovable and flawed and full of life.

The themes of the story are rich, and I didn’t expect many of them going in. All this is built into an enthralling historical fantasy that surges to a perfect climax and a eucatastrophic ending.

In short, if you loved any of the following:

The ballad of Tam Lin
Cupid and Psyche
Yeats’ "Stolen Child"
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
The Silver Chair
The Dark is Rising series
The Queen’s Thief series
Crown Duel and Court Duel
Wildwood Dancing or Shadowfell
The Spiderwick Chronicles

Then treat yourself to The Perilous Gard.
Profile Image for Cara.
279 reviews721 followers
December 31, 2013
Gosh, I had forgotten so much since I first read this. I read it a couple of years back and every time I thought of the book I had fond memories, but why exactly it had that effect was slipping from my memory.

Honestly I read this book because it was labeled fantasy and at the time that was all I would read and it was one of the only books in the library I hadn't read (it was a very small library). The cover wasn't glittery or a standout in anyway, but I dived in regardless of the cover. This book is one those "hidden gems", not too many people know about it but those who do love this story.

Kate is a lady in waiting for Lady Elizabeth, but because of a certain questionable letter that her sister Alicia sends to Queen Mary, she is sent away to live at the Perilous Gard. There are many tales regarding this place, but Kate being the level headed girl she is doesn't put much thought to the wild tales. That is of course until she gets there and sees that maybe all the fairy talk about the place might have some merit. While she is there she meets Christopher Heron and she finds out fairly quickly that his carrying a huge burden on his shoulders and yup you guessed it, it all has to do with the fairies. Both Kate and Christopher find themselves immersed in this world that is not as magical as everyone assumes.

Of course the true standout thing from all this for me was the dynamic between Kate and Christopher. I have never seen a relationship quite like theirs. It's just so.... perfect because there isn't a single drop of over the topness in sight. Kate herself is a strong character and never backs down even when it seems there is no hope. She can appreciate attributes that the fairy people have, but never condones them for their behavior. Something very hard for any noraml human being to do. I absolutely loved the climatic scene. It was done just the right way. Really no complaints at all, even if at the end I wanted more. *sigh* The life of the reader huh? Always feeling a little robbed but somehow always going back for more.

Really all that aside do pick up the book. Any fans of this type of literature are guaranteed to fall in extreme like for the story of Kate and her journey.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,406 reviews11.7k followers
December 15, 2021
2.5 stars

Read it on Holly Black's recommendation, and I can totally see why such a book would influence her own work, especially if she had read it as a young girl, a few decades ago. It has a strong heroine, an adventure, and a dash of romance. I would have loved it 20 years ago too, I think.

My present day self though, with a few fairy novels under my belt and not exactly enamored with the writing style of the 70s, found only a few things compelling. The fairy lore is by far the best aspect of this novel. The strangeness of them is portrayed in a distinct, unique way.

However, this is a 50-year old novel, and the old-timey-ness of it is a real drag. I don't have much problem with the plot. The Tudor setting of this Tam Lin interpretation makes for a nice mix of historical and fantastical. But goodness, is this story boring for good 70% of it! Only when I finally encountered the fairies did I start being interested in what was going on. Casual sexism and a problematic hero didn't help the case either. No matter how you look at it, threatening a woman to beat her, for being persistent and head-strong, no less, is no longer a welcome ingredient in a romance.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 60 books764 followers
August 31, 2021
8/6/19: Stayed up way too late to finish listening to the audiobook. Everything I said below still applies.

9/29/15: I actually read this twice this year because:

1) It is one of the best historical fantasies ever written;
2) I didn't review it the first time, lost the immediacy, and had to read it again to do it justice;
3) Because Feelings;
4) It takes me like two hours to read it. Seriously. Why wouldn't I spend two hours this way?

The Perilous Gard was written in a time before people really knew what Young Adult fiction should look like. This is why it's shelved in the middle grade section even though the main characters are young adults. That, and the style is simple enough that younger readers will understand it. Will they really appreciate it? I don't know. Will it guarantee more readers if it's shelved as YA instead of MG? Also don't know. I just know that I occasionally have trouble convincing adults to read it because of how it's classed. I'm really grateful for the current trend in adults reading YA fiction, but it doesn't seem to extend to MG even though there are so many great books in that category (the Sammy Keyes mysteries, the Alcatraz series, Greenglass House...I could go on, but this is a review about a book and not a referendum on the YA issue).

The Perilous Gard begins with some really marvelous characterization: Kate Sutton, awkward and smart; her sister Alicia, beautiful and dimwitted; the Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth), exiled to an unpleasant royal palace by her jealous sister Queen Mary. Alicia has written a letter to the Queen protesting how Elizabeth doesn't deserve what she's done to her, how she's good and smart and wonderful, etc., etc. This naturally makes Queen Mary decide to release Elizabeth and shower her with gifts...no, sorry, that would be some other universe. Queen Mary, with extraordinary logic, decides that Alicia couldn't possibly have written the letter and blames it all on Kate, sending her to live in Derbyshire with Sir Geoffrey Heron at his home called Elvenwood Hall, otherwise known as the Perilous Gard. There are rumors of mysterious fairy folk who live in the wood surrounding the Gard, but of course no one believes them.

The initial setup makes the characters seem stereotypical, but Kate and Alicia really do love each other, and Kate's being awkward doesn't make her feel bad about herself. Kate is clever and sensible, and she neither believes nor disbelieves the legends; instead, she realizes that it's very likely there were people who worshiped heathen gods in the past--and why shouldn't they still be around? But everything at Elvenwood Hall seems conspiring to keep her isolated, from Sir Geoffrey's steward Master John, who's definitely hiding something, to Geoffrey's brother Christopher, who blames himself for the death of Geoffrey's young daughter Cecily. As Kate learns more, she's eventually drawn into a conspiracy that leads her into an encounter with the heathen people and their Queen that changes her life.

I love Kate. I love how sensible she is and how her interactions with Christopher, even though she feels she never says the right thing, are all ones that are unflinching in her refusal to go along with his self-flagellation. Christopher, for his part, is a strange mix of sentimental and sensible. He cares very much about an abandoned manor that he would love to restore, and it's what brings them together after their initial misunderstandings. They're neither of them titled, and the simplicity of their dream is refreshing.

What I love more, though, is the society of Those Under the Hill and their Queen. Pope used many elements from old pagan worship (at least, as it was understood by those who came after, not as modern pagans worship) to create a group of people who could easily be mistaken for elves, whose "magic" is a combination of herb lore and hypnotism, and even though there's no actual magic in this book, I can't help but classify it as fantasy. Add to this the story of Tam Lin, one of my favorites, and I'm hooked.

The strongest theme running through this book is the question of free will. Kate, given the opportunity to ease her time under the mountain, chooses not to accept because she can't bear the thought of having her mind taken away from her. (I've decided to mark the rest as a spoiler, sorry for those who read the review before now):
The complicated relationship between Kate and the Queen, central to the story, is what gives the book depth. The Queen might as well be an elf queen, as careless and proud and cruel as she is, and even as Kate hates what she does, she can't help feeling admiration for some of what she is. The Queen, for her part, develops a similar admiration for Kate, who she feels is powerful and noble in a way most of her kind are not. Whether the Queen's assessment of humanity is true is irrelevant; what matters is that Kate's choices prompt the Queen, in the end, to give her the respect due a queen of her own kind.

Great characters, a wonderful plot, and deceptively simple prose made this book a Newbery Honor winner. It remains one of my favorite books and one that I recommend to readers of all ages.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,397 reviews583 followers
November 12, 2016
Delightful read. This was also rather unique. It fit the Tudor (1558)Hatfield and Norfolk placements to a superb degree. The combination of genre was also, IMHO, highly unusual. Not completely historical fiction, not truly a novel of manners and guile, not cored in romance, crossing cultural boundaries with the "other" economic class. And skirting the magical and characters of myth? Or clan, as in a much older society form?

Regardless, the writing and thought patterns of our lady protagonist were complex, fully emotive of human nuance, and the physical nature of descriptions not one bit shabby either.

Thank you to the GR friend who recommended this book.
Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,072 followers
September 19, 2010
Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard taught me a lesson that what can get under one person's skin, sink into their minds and out and out *haunt* them is nothing but a casual read to someone else (alrighty, I've learned this lesson before. But you know what they say, if it didn't stick then you didn't really learn it). When I read and fell in love with 'Gard', I excitedly presented it to my twin (whom I at least attempt to share with anything that matters to me). "Oh, I read that years ago." She didn't even think that it might appeal to me, and she knows my interest in Tam Lin based stories. *grumbles* Even if it didn't scream "Mariel" to her as it should have done... (Or not, as I thought it would be something she would love, only it wasn't.)
So I don't know if any descriptions I can muster up about the atmosphere of this book will convey much. I don't know what is going to get to someone else. Sometimes these things are like musical taste and what sounds good to someone else doesn't to another.
It really got to me. I cannot stand to be under ground, in body or in mind. (One of the scariest moments of my life was a mandatory spelunking trip for a geology lab.) Reading about anything underground gets to me like not much else. (C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair is my earliest memory of an underground read freakout. It's still my favorite in the Narnia chronicles. Part of me wants the freakout, but I'm kinda sick anyway.) Reading about what Kate goes through, and feeling like I was there with her, was intense for me. Kate's struggle to survive in that mindfuck of an underground faery land... Well, I know this is a Tam Lin story, but I was more riveted by her saving herself than her battle for Christopher from the fae queen. Luckily, this is not a the boy is mine story. Kate triumphs over her own fears, and what she holds to be right in a world that beats you down in innate sickness. Christopher is free to make his own decisions, which was the important thing. I wasn't all that invested in him as a love interest. I didn't care about that. I LOVED this depiction of the faery world. Kate's mental energies were my hook, line and sinker.
The beginning of the story is set in 1558, and Kate is shuffled back and forth to wherever she and her sister can best be used for political gain. Her selfish sister ruins things for Kate in the court of Queen Mary Tudor. Elizabeth makes a brief appearance herself. Although this isn't that kind of historical drama, I appreciated that neither Elizabeth or Mary are favored. It was always confusing to read one book where Elizabeth is the hero, and then another with Elizabeth as the bitch. Taking sides now seems kinda silly to me.
The setting is important to depict the ancient fae connections to the humans they need to pay tribute, and how the changing of times threatens that way of life. This isn't really an historical tale, no matter what the packaging says (or ahem my own book tags). At least not to that specific time. If anything, one could argue any time after another would be like this: made smaller. Beliefs can change, and change back. 'Gard' could have been set in any time and be relevant to it.
The twin and I were like Heavenly Creatures without the matricide with our royal lines fixations. We'd love to read histories, and then the historical fiction stories, and make up our own dramas based off all of it. Come to think, I should've known my twin had whacked out tastes: She had an Oliver Cromwell phase in middle school! That's just crazy. Don't trust her word on The Perilous Gard. *I* never had an Oliver Cromwell phase.
Profile Image for Jacob Proffitt.
3,001 reviews1,648 followers
March 10, 2015
I know I've read this before—some images and scenes stand out in memory. Fortunately for me, I couldn't remember much more than a set piece here or there. Which means it was like reading it for the first time, only with a pleasant tang of anticipation for spice.

Not that the book needed any kind of boost. It's a near perfect fantasy novel of the mostly-realistic sort. It's historically based (1558, to be specific), but the Fair Folk are real enough to be a threat. I could go on about the intricacy of the setting, but to be honest, I couldn't really care less. Truth told, I love Kate so much that it didn't really matter.

I'm tired enough (having stayed up way too late finishing the book), that I'm struggling getting anything more on record. So I'll leave it with this: I was completely charmed by both the book and the heroine. They are (book and woman) strong, brave, and smart. And that's a killer combination...
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
May 4, 2017
This taut, emotionally compelling but unsentimental look at fae I think has influenced a great many writers working in fantasy today.
Profile Image for nastya .
450 reviews289 followers
December 15, 2021
A beautifully written, smart and creative retelling of Tam Lin. Historical setting, the fairy world, the Old Well were vivid in my mind.

Until we got to the retelling part. You see, this is a retelling that completely works when it's doing its thing and falls apart when it sticks to the legend. I'm almost wishing this was maybe a retelling without the Tam Lin himself, something subversive like Maleficent, because the whole romantic part was so uninspired and dull. All great interactions were between Kate and The Fairy Queen, these were the characters I wanted to see together in the scene. But alas.
Profile Image for Suzannah.
Author 31 books490 followers
October 12, 2016
(Review originally published at Vintage Novels).

Elizabeth Marie Pope is an author (of vintage YA historical fantasy) whose books I've been waiting to try out for quite a long time. My opportunity came a few short months back when I finally tracked her books down on Open Library (which is an amazing source for vintage and otherwise hard-to-find books!). I read The Sherwood Ring just before Christmas, and found it every bit as adorable as I'd ever heard it was, though I had a couple of philosophical cautions; but my interest was whetted in Pope's other book, The Perilous Gard, when a friend told me it was by far her favourite of the two.

At first, I was a little unsure about this. From the book's description, I half expected it to be a typical pro-pagan narrative about the niceness and feminist smarts of pre-Christian Celtic culture:

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.

Well. Yikes. Was I wrong. I obviously didn't read the description quite carefully enough:

—whose customs include human sacrifice.

And so. And so...

Katherine Sutton is clumsy, tart, clever...and accustomed to getting the blame for the crazy schemes thought up by her impulsive sister Alicia. So she isn't really surprised when an ill-advised letter to Queen Mary complaining about living conditions at Hatfield Manor with Princess Elizabeth results in her own exile to a castle in the craggy forests of Derbyshire. Upon her arrival, Kate is mystified by the inhabitants' suspicious behaviour, the mysterious Holy Well in the valley behind the castle, the old legends of elves and fairies surrounding the castle itself...and the peculiar behaviour of Christopher Heron, the younger brother of the castle's lord, who lives in a leper's hut eking out an agonising penance for the disappearance of a child for whom he was responsible. When Kate figures out what happened to little Cecily, Christopher comes up with a wild plan to recover her from the half-legendary People of the Hill--and Kate, almost against her will, is also swept into the strange land under the Hill.

I was astonished to find how many elements The Perilous Gard shared with my own new release, The Bells of Paradise --to the extent that I'm glad I didn't read the former until after the latter's publication. Both stories include elements of the old tale of Tam Lin--The Perilous Gard is an intriguing retelling of the story. Both stories are set during the reign of Queen Mary, and the accession of Elizabeth I strikes a note of resolution near the end. And both stories take place in the wild woods of Derbyshire.

Unlike Bells, however, The Perilous Gard demythologises Tam Lin and the fairies somewhat. Kate, a very rational, sensible heroine, discounts out of hand the idea of anything being particularly magical about the People of the Hill. The ending gives no more than a hint that they might be anything but very different, very strange human pagans. Now, normally I don't like it when modernists suck all the magic out of old legends. Tales like King Arthur and the Trojan War lose all their stature when they're retold in strictly mundane terms. The Perilous Gard, however, avoids this trap in two ways. One of those ways is by telling a story of real emotional import, a story with a great sense of beauty and nobility. The other way is how Pope gives us a wonderful counter-myth to the ugly, bloody pagan myth of the People of the Hill: a very clear, unambiguous Christian message. I was so stunned with this I almost couldn't believe my eyes when I first encountered it:

"How can you tell what I meant to do? How can I? How can anyone? I think the damned souls in hell must spend half their time wondering what it was that they really meant to do."

"If you think the damned in hell spend their time doing that, then you can't know very much about the damned in hell," Kate retorted furiously. "I am utterly at squares with this childish dealing. Why in the name of heaven don't you go down to the village and make a proper confession to the priest and let him tell you what penance you ought to be laying on yourself? You aren't one of the damned in hell. We're all of us under the Mercy."

As I've often told people, you can include just about any Christian theme in a story so long as it fits organically into the context of the people you're writing about. All the same, I was staggered by how unapologetic, and yet how fitting, this theme was. In this story, the pagans were bad (though not without their own cultural beauty and grace), and the Christians were good. And the Christian myth was pitted against the pagan myth and came away triumphant, in a way that fitted very well into the story and yet at the same time was delightfully uncompromising.

I was stunned.

Add to this a tale that wrenches your heart, an often witty and hilarious romance (and if it's a little predictably mid-century in flavour, well, it's still very cute), and a gorgeous writing style that fleshes out the setting beautifully, and you have one of the best works of girls' YA I've ever been privileged to read. My only complaint, really, would be that the world-building for the Under the Hill segments was a little underdone in some regards. But apart from that, I loved this book, was utterly gripped, and deeply satisfied.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,014 followers
March 23, 2016
The Perilous Gard was a reread for me — somewhat at random, in fact. It’s just by my elbow in my new desk/shelf set-up, and I was procrastinating on my assignment, and I found myself reading it… And I have no idea why I rated it so poorly before. The writing is great; you can envision every scene, whether it be the sumptuous bedroom Kate awakes in or a grassy hollow in the wood, the overhanging threat of stone and stone and more stone or the brightness of a Faerie gathering. It makes every scene come alive, and the characters too — slightly silly, trusting Alicia; sensible, awkward Kate; torn and guilty Christopher.

The love story works perfectly for me, as well: not surprising, perhaps, considering the way they needle each other. The way Kate refuses to put up with Christopher’s dramatic manpain while still sympathising and understanding and trying to help him. The way that they fall in love, talking about practicalities of draining fenland and building a farm. The way that they keep each other sane and whole, and find each other in the end.

And there’s subtlety in most of the characterisation, too: the Faerie Folk are strange, and think differently, but there’s moments where their emotions seem close to human, where Kate comes close to understanding them, and they her. The only really unambiguously bad one is Master John, who organises things so he can profit from the Faerie people and their Holy Well. They act according to their nature, while he is cowardly and motivated by greed.

It’s also lovely the way it’s woven in with real history: I don’t know if Alicia and Kate were real people (however far from reality this book goes with the fantasy elements), but the story is close enough that it might be, with them waiting on Princess Elizabeth during Queen Mary’s reign, and exiled for interfering. The clash between pagan and Christian is one that many books have touched on, and this one does so with a fairly light hand (and is isolated from the difficulties of Catholicism and Protestantism that went on at the time, though I think Kate is clearly a Protestant), but it works.

The accompanying illustrations are also, for the most part, charming, with just the right amount of life and movement.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,636 reviews417 followers
April 3, 2022
2022 Review
I struggled getting into this re-read and I really don't think the book picks up until Kate enters the land of the fairies. But once she finally did, I remembered why I liked this book so much. It was suspenseful and adventurous with just a touch of romance. And I still love the illustrations, even if they are very 1970s.
But good golly did it take a few months to get through this one.

2011 (Probably?) Review
I'm not even going to bother trying to give a synopsis of this book. Very sloppy of me, I know, but its almost to complicated to give an accurate description. Kate Sutton is a handmaiden to Princess Elizabeth during the reign of Queen Mary, an indiscretion on the part of her sister gets her banned to a remote castle called Perilous Gard in the middle of nowhere.
I LOVE The Perilous Gard. Maybe its the setting, Tudor England. I've read and written so much about it that reading a historically accurate novel is just plain awesome. But its more than that. I love the characters and the writing style and the plot and the ending....
Its a bit weird at first. Fairy-folk. Woodland lore. But Kate is a fiery, practical young miss whose stubborn nature is beautiful and brilliant.
Its a historical, romance intermixed with adventure, fantasy, and a great setting.
Profile Image for Hallie.
954 reviews123 followers
May 7, 2008
This is one of the most often re-read books in our house - definitely the one I read to the daughters the greatest number of times. And with good reason, as it's fantastic. First there's the Tam Lin element, which is used beautifully here. Then there's some of the best dialogue ever ('You don't look like any god to me, Christopher Heron. You look like a piece of gilded gingerbread.') And Kate's a wonderful heroine - intelligent, stubborn when it's about doing what she feels she should (or not taking the easy way out) and interesting, rather than beautiful and not much more. And the Faerie (or are they? There's just a hint of doubt about who they are that sets the story off perfectly) are so subtly drawn. And finally, in Christopher, the wounded, arrogant-acting-but-suffering hero is both portrayed to great effect and constantly deflated by Kate's common-sense.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,208 reviews3,687 followers
January 16, 2021
Actual Rating: 4.5 stars

This was lovely! Charming in a dark sort of way, if that makes any sense. The Perilous Gard is a classic YA story from the 1970's that blends historical fiction (Elizabethan England) with fantastical elements (the Fae or Fair Folk), but in a way that feels much more grounded than modern fae fantasy. It follows a young woman named Katherine (Kate) who is banished by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote and mysterious estate known as the Perilous Gard. While there she is drawn into dark secrets involving druidic magic and human sacrifice. Seriously, this is really fantastic and it's unfortunate it's gone out of print!
Profile Image for Tandie.
1,481 reviews227 followers
August 2, 2016
Wonderful! A sort of retelling of Tam Lin, without the pregnant lover part. As you very well know, TWUE WUV is a powerful weapon when dealing with fairy folk. They may not be able to speak lies, but there's almost always a trick to be played.

Clever Kate has been exiled to The Perilous Gard, a remote fortress, merely for not being as charming as her sister. She meets her guardian's brother, Christopher, and forms an immediate dislike. Wary of one another, they begin a reluctant friendship - which is no surprise since they're both on the outs with their families. He's prickly, and no wonder! He had charge of his young niece the day she was lost, presumably drowned in the well.

Fairies are almost businesslike in their dealings with mortals, they take what they need without regard for feelings. I found the human allies to be far more despicable. I loved the way this tale played out at the end, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Maureen E.
1,137 reviews51 followers
May 2, 2012
Every so often I start hankering for a favorite book. It's almost like craving a particular food. Only that flavor will do. Recently, that hankering turned towards The Perilous Gard, one of my favorite books for, oh, years. As a bonus, it's also historical fantasy and a Tam Lin retelling, two awesome subgenres.

Kate Sutton is a lady in waiting to Princess Elizabeth, along with her younger sister Alicia. Alicia is beautiful and fluffy-minded and, when she becomes outraged over the living conditions at Hatfield, sends a letter to Queen Mary. Because Alicia gets out of everything, Queen Mary blames Kate and sends her to live under the protection of Sir Geoffrey Heron at Elvenwood in Derbyshire. The house is also known, ominously, as The Perilous Gard.

Kate is essentially Alicia's opposite. She is plain, graceless, sharp-minded and sharp-tongued. It's strongly implied that Alicia gets her character from her mother's side of the family and Kate from her father's, especially her grandfather. She values common sense, honesty, and plain dealing. She's a bit like Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle, though she's not normally so insecure. She's in the category of characters I would like to have as a friend.

From the first glimpse of Elvenwood, Pope makes it clear that this is a strange and eerie land. One of the threads all my favorite Tam Lin retellings contain is a genuine sense of creepiness. There's something frightening about the story and here there's something frightening about the Elvenwood, about the castle and its inhabitants, and most especially, about the People of the Hill.

At the same time, Kate is forced, especially in the second half of the book, into a kind of unwilling sympathy for them. She understands them, while at the same time she fights against them with all her might to save Christopher. She's half-way to being one of them by the end of the book, not simply in the way that she moves or how she has physically changed, but also in the fact that she can understand the way that they think. This layer adds a depth and complexity to the story that keeps the People from simply being villains or Other.

I haven't said anything at all about Christopher yet, which is a pity. He's an exasperating, marvelous character. The romance here is based on mutual respect and neither party leaps into it at first sight. (Kate even says at one point, "How could I be in love with Christopher Heron? I've only talked to him twice in my life!") Given that I grew up on this book, The Blue Sword, Anne and Gilbert, and Betsy and Joe, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that insta-attraction romances are anathema to me. Regardless, the end is incredibly swoon-worthy and I would quote the whole thing except that it's full of spoilers and also the point is that you have to read it in order.

It's also interesting to note that Kate's impulses from the beginning are to save Christopher. First she wants to save him from his loneliness and self-imposed penance. Then she wants to save him from his sacrifice. Then she wants to save him from the People. But she also exhibits the same impulse towards other characters--Cecily, Harry, even Randal.

Pope was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which means that she knew her stuff. And it shows. The historical aspect of the novel is utterly convincing in the surplus of details which are woven naturally into the story. Kate thinks and acts as a Tudor girl, albeit a slightly unconventional one. At the same time, I think she's the strongest character in the whole book. Which just shows you that it's possible to write female characters in historical fiction without sacrificing either accuracy or strength. (I keep harping on this. It is a Thing with me.)

In the end, after all of my blathering on, this is simply an wonderful book. It's one of those that are heart-books, that have gone so deep I don't really need to re-read them. But why on earth wouldn't I?


A comfort re-read. I love this Tam Lin re-telling, which is convincingly set in Elizabethan England. Kate is such a wonderful heroine and Christopher was one of the first characters I swooned over. [Feb. 2010]
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,035 reviews332 followers
June 10, 2010
The Perilous Gard is set in late Tudor times; the heroine, Kate Sutton, is one of the lady Elizabeth's handmaidens, exiled by Queen Mary for a letter Kate's sister wrote to her. Kate is sent to Elvenwood, also called "the Perilous Gard", where she's immediately intrigued by Christopher, the enigmatic brother of the master of the castle, Sir Geoffrey Heron. Soon, she discovers the secrets kept by the people of the castle, and to her peril, discovers also the mysterious residents of the land around the castle.

Pope's period detail is impeccable and never ponderous, and her fairies (the People of the Hill) have just the right note of otherworldliness. Kate is a marvelous heroine, clever and daring, and the rest of the characters are equally engaging. Along with Pamela Dean's Tam Lin and Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, this is certainly one of the best "Tam Lin" retellings I've read.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,818 reviews418 followers
December 30, 2021
Dec. 2021 Children's Books group Newbery club.
(on openlibrary.org)

The Perilous Gard is an old but remodeled castle, and the setting is Derbyshire, England, in the mid 16th century.

At first I thought it was going to be court intrigue/historical fiction, but at about 1/4 in it seems to be more of a mystery with some vibes of the supernatural (though our heroine is very logical and thinks of the superstitions as nonsense).

I'm still not sure that I'll finish, but I will read further.
Well. Done. Not sure what to think. I think maybe that young me would have loved it. Quite a bit of *Tam Lin*, some New Testament, and a smidge of *The Taming of the Shrew.*

The girl rescues the boy, you see, and the whole land in the process. And learns to be more graceful and ladylike, as well as brave and intelligent. And the boy seems worthy, I think.

I actually do recommend this, even to today's kids, if there's an appealing cover avl.

The interior illustrations are interesting enough to have prompted me to request other books from my library that he's illustrated; I hope the texts are as good!
Profile Image for Chachic.
586 reviews203 followers
November 11, 2011
Originally posted here.

I've had my copy of The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope since 2007 and I only got to read it recently. I don't know why I kept putting it off but I'm glad I finally picked it up. I've heard such good things about it and I believe I got the original recommendation for this from Sounis. I've been meaning to put up a Retro Friday post for a while and since this is an oldie but goodie, it seemed perfect for the meme.

Kate is a lady's maid to Lady Elizabeth, sister to the Queen Mary. She is exiled to a remote castle called Perilous Gard when her beautiful but clueless sister, Alicia, writes a letter that doesn't sit well with the Queen. Poor Kate, it's not even her fault why she ends up in Perilous Gard. But I guess that it's a good thing because instead of being bored like she expected, she becomes tangled in the doings of the Fairy Folk in the area. I've read a couple of fairy novels this year but The Perilous Gard is different from anything else that I've read. For one thing, it's more historical fiction than fantasy unlike other novels that have fairies in them. In that sense, I felt that the portrayal of the Fairy Folk in the novel was realistic. This is also a Tam Lin retelling and that made things more interesting. It's funny because the ballad of Tam Lin is actually mentioned in the book. The Perilous Gard is a lovely story and is a classic for fans of fairy stories. I think this was the book that I was reading around Halloween and it was perfect because it's a bit dark and eerie. Be sure to pick this up if you're into fairy reads because it's a welcome break from the more modern fairies in urban fantasy novels nowadays.

Kate Sutton is a heroine that I really liked - she's not as pretty as her sister Alicia but she's a lot more intelligent. She's sarcastic, witty and I enjoyed reading the banter between her and Christopher Heron, the younger brother of the owner of the castle. I know a couple of my bookish friends are fans of the romance between these two but for some reason, I didn't feel that Christopher Heron was swoon-worthy. I thought that there was more friendship than romance between these two. So that probably says something about the development of the love story - it's a slow burn kind that forms after countless conversations and the characters have gotten to know each other really well. I didn't understand why I wasn't more into it. Maybe I would have loved it more if I read the book when I was younger. My lukewarm reaction to the romance didn't prevent me from enjoying the book as a whole. Like I said, I recommend this for fans of fairy stories or retellings of Tam Lin.

I was pleasantly surprised by the illustrations included in the novel. As always, I love including pictures of illustrations in my reviews so here are some of them:

I'm so glad I got to publish a Retro Friday post this week! I've been trying to write this for the past couple of weeks but I haven't gotten around to it. Anyway, hope you all have a great weekend and let me know if you've read this book and what you thought of it. And if you have any other recommendations for Tam Lin retellings that I should know about.
Profile Image for Isa Lavinia.
604 reviews303 followers
December 17, 2020
This really wasn't for me, even though nearly all my friends loved it.
I found it awfully boring and dated, and I hated Christopher - the only thing I liked about the book was Kate.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
216 reviews14 followers
January 13, 2022
reread jan 2022:
This is the third time I’ve read this book, and I’m giving it five stars this time because you know what, somehow it’s become one of my favorites.

I say “somehow,” but it makes perfect sense, actually. Here are all the things this book has going for it:

-Tam Lin retelling

-Not just a Tam Lin retelling but a Tam Lin retelling that incorporates the actual ballad into the actual story and which sticks amazingly close to the details of the ballad but in a way where even if you know the ballad you have no idea how things are going to play out

-Katherine Sutton is one of my favorite fictional women I’ve ever read. She is...she is so real. She reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about how women are hard to write well because they don’t generally have one defining trait in the way men often do - they’re cocktails. And Kate is a cocktail of her restraint AND her impatience, her skeptical rationality AND her sensitivity, her clear wits AND her empathy. And she is so real and I love her so incredibly much.

-Christopher Heron and his conscience are infuriating but also beautiful. I love just how flawed he is.

-The side characters as well. Randal the minstrel, Sir Geoffrey, Kate’s father. Master John too, the complacent dishonest weasel.


-And the beautiful, sane, healthy ordinariness of Kate’s method of helping Christopher in the “nights” - it’s the same principle as Chesterton talks about in Orthodoxy: the need, simply, for health. And it’s the same principle I’ve thought about many a time: how absolutely lost and blind you can get in your own head, and how, being physical creatures, we need connection to the physical, mundane, everyday world, and how sometimes things are just too big for us (mentally) and we need to hold on to what we do know is good and true, and that is generally not done with heroics but with ordinary, physical, mundane, everyday persistence.

-Just the understated beauty of the writing - concise, clean, detailed, historical

”If you think the damned in hell spend their time doing that, then you can’t know very much about the damned in hell,” Kate retorted furiously. “I am utterly at squares with this childish dealing. Why in the name of heaven don’t you go down to the village and make a proper confession to the priest and let him tell you what penance you ought to be laying on yourself? You aren’t one of the damned in hell. We’re all of us under the Mercy.”

(^^^i just like Kate being sensible and frustrated)

reread spring 2021:
This book this book this BOOK

I love it so much. So so so so so much I can’t word right now because I’ve been finishing a bunch of coding assignments and those things completely exhaust my brain but I will hopefully make an attempt later to talk with something approaching coherence about the thing of beauty that is this book.

For now, though, Katherine Sutton is one of my favorite heroines of ever. I’m really picky about female characters but I’m kind of thinking, between her and Dana Scully, the recipe for A Heroine Rebecca Loves is actually ridiculously simple?? 1 cup level-headed practicality, 5 million cups skepticism, bake and serve, rave reviews guaranteed.

OH and also it’s definitely straight historical fiction. Not historical fantasy. That was half the reason I reread, to settle my mind on that point (all these folks calling it fantasy had me rattled, lol), and I am satisfied.

OH OH and Randal! I love him so much.

I love Elizabeth Marie Pope’s writing SO MUCH.
Profile Image for Abigail Bok.
Author 4 books207 followers
September 2, 2018
The year is 1558; two daughters of a prosperous merchant are ladies-in-waiting to the young Princess Elizabeth. Queen Mary becomes angry with the elder sister, Katherine Sutton, and banishes her to a remote northern castle, known as Elvenwood or, more traditionally, the Perilous Gard. There she leads a dull and lonely life. But Kate is a bright and curious young woman, and soon she is busy ferreting out mystery. From the dubious smoothness of the castle's manager, Master John, and the suspicious hostility of the villagers to the stubborn silence of the lord's younger brother, Christopher Heron, she has plenty to figure out.

The story moves quickly and develops mythic/fantasy elements woven from traditional ballads that feel entirely appropriate to the era and setting. Both Kate and Christopher undergo severe tests of their character and powers of endurance. I loved that no character is carelessly drawn; everyone is understandable even when their motivations are as yet unrevealed. This book would be a comfortable read for a fantasy-loving child but absorbed and touched me as an adult. A real classic.
Profile Image for Kami.
528 reviews34 followers
November 16, 2007
What could not be said about this fabulous book?!?!?! I love it!!! One of the few books (along with Jane Austen's and the Bronte's) that I read over and over. It perfectly entwines historical fiction with the lore of the fairy folk in a completely believable manner. I really like how the fairy folk were kept true to the old legends and poems of them being sinister and evil. I also loved the herione, she's great; I hate when the main character is an idiot. And the love story is fabulous. Why don't more people read this?!?
Profile Image for Anne Stengl.
Author 26 books796 followers
September 6, 2013
I love the ballad of TAM LIN, and Elizabeth Marie Pope's retelling of that famous poem is clever, dark, surprising, funny, elegant, mysterious, and ultimately wonderful. This was the last book to keep me up until 3:00 in the morning turning pages. I was not expecting to be so delighted, and I look forward to reading her other novel, THE SHERWOOD RING.
Profile Image for Kate Forsyth.
Author 88 books2,349 followers
December 20, 2012
I am so grateful to whoever it was that told me I should read this book - an absolute masterpiece of children's historical fantasy, written with such deftness and lightness of touch. It has become one of my all-time favourite children's books.
Profile Image for Katriel.
137 reviews
May 31, 2023
It was fine.
But also disappointing, and mildly boring, especially in the middle when it was essentially two characters just sitting in a hole talking about how they were in a hole. Maybe that's unfair.

What isn't unfair, however, is my assessment of Christopher. That he was aggressive and condescending and treated Kate like she was a dumb child. You could argue that he just has a moody personality, well fine but it doesn't matter what your personality is you should still be KIND AND RESPECTFUL and a decent human and not threaten to beat people. (yeah he threatens to beat Kate at one point and you could say he's not being serious but that's the problem, you can't really tell. which is...worrisome.)

And the ending just left me feeling weird. He doesn't ask her to marry him, he informs her that she WILL, and then he tells her that trying to live without her would be like trying to live without a mind or eyes, and he would go insane and the whole ending just felt unhealthy and their banter that I think was supposed to be cute was not cute and I don't think either of them should have been getting married at that point and certainly not to eachother. 😭😭

Maybe I'm being oversensitive and also this is set in the 1500s so who am I kidding?

I dunno. I just hope they went to therapy but pretty sure Christopher would eat nails before he agreed to go and even if they did go I low-key feel like it wouldn't help them.

Okay I need to stop. These people aren't even real. 😂

The fairie parts were kinda cool. And God bless Randall. He was my favorite character. I hope he's happy and somebody reminds him to eat food sometimes.
Profile Image for Valerie.
249 reviews74 followers
September 10, 2016
I have half a mind just to reread all my favorite books. It's way more satisfying than I thought it would be. I first read this book about 4 years ago and forgot why I loved it so much. I actually forgot a lot more than I thought I did, but it's definitely a book worth rereading.

From the start we see that Kate is in trouble for something her prettier, younger sister did and so is sent off to the Perilous Gard. Once there she finds little comfort from anyone. Just the maid's occasional complaints, a word with a witless singer, and an argument or two with the moping Christopher-who has a heavy weight on his shoulders she soon finds out. But Kate is curious. What is all the talk about these Fair Folk and the Well and what does it have to do with the young lord Christopher? She got more than she bargained for but not more than she could handle I'm happy to say. This practical girl is soon in the midst of this "Fair Folk World" with whom else but Christopher. Just like one of those ballads the witless singer might know.

I can't tell you how much I enjoy a strong protagonist like Kate. She is very observant, kind, and full-hardy. She knows just what to say and do, though she sometimes doubts her abilities and she is a lot smarter than she gives herself credit for. For having so little to go on she figures some things out and makes connections, gains knowledge and maybe even some grace. One more thing that I thought was just oh-so-satisfying was the relationship between Kate and Christopher. It was more of a show don’t tell kind of thing which I always love to see in books. It was clear to see the development of the relationship without the mushy lines and all that (though I do admit that I kind of like that sometimes in moderation of course).

When I first read The Perilous Gard I didn't know it was a retelling of a ballad (I think it's called Tam Lin?). There isn't a lot of "magic" in the book which suits it perfectly and the fairies' culture can be a bit confusing but I'm no scholar and I got through it just fine. Actually, I got through and closed the book with a big old smile on my face.
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