Monday, 12 August 2013

Book Review: "The Perilous Gard"

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.
-image and summary from Goodreads.com

NOTE: THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER-FREE

I've heard rave reviews from many friends and authors about The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, and it's been on my to-read list for a while. Finally, this summer, I got my greedy, grubby reader hands on it.

And what can I say? I understand the raves (and I might join them sometime).

The Perilous Gard captures the atmosphere of England's forests and countryside in an eerie, rain-soaked setting full of lush green whispering trees and servants at a mysterious castle who know more than they let on. I was drawn in by the circumstances revolving around a child's disappearance and Kate's determination to bring justice.

What I particularly enjoyed was that Kate's journey was far from easy. She doesn't get answers by drawing them out of people who, true to their characters, stubbornly remain silent, but by making connections between events. She uses her smarts to find a way out of dangerous situations. There needs to be more heroines like Kate nowadays.

Another aspect I loved was that while Pope deals with subject matter that could get weird and occult, she keeps the story grounded in reality. The "Fairy Folk" are actually people whose customs have merely been around for many years, whose abilities seem to be more magical than those of mere mortals but who are actually just as human as Kate. While not all about them is explained and certain threads are left to the eerie conclusions of our imaginations, I was really happy that Pope went in this direction. Pope makes a point that much of what we deem to be 'magic' is actually easily explained--or simply the product of we as humans giving a certain object more power than it has. A lot of it is in the mind.

One thing about this story is that it's very short. Other than Kate, readers really only get to know Christopher, the brother of the lord of the castle Perilous Gard and the main suspect in the disappearance of Cecily, his niece. But, surprisingly, this works for the story. After finishing it, I was satisfied with its length. This is not a fast-paced novel by any means, and ends with a complete story, having made its point. I think its length suits its purpose.

I loved the writing--lush, lyrical, like poetry. I loved the characters and the feeling that this story might be a legend you hear of if you visit England.

However, the one drawback that kept this from a five-star rating was Christopher's continuous use of the Lord's name in vain. While I understand that many of that time period used God's name in a way that they did not see to be in vain, my 'modern sensibilities' couldn't help but shudder. It was used quite a bit, which disappointed me because it was so avoidable.

On the other hand, this book portrays Kate's strong faith and sense, which she uses to block the tempting words of the main villain. I wanted to cheer when I read that scene, and I finished it with a huge smile on my face and the strong urge to pump a fist into the air.

As well, this book boasts one of the most romantic speeches ever:

“I've never thought of you like that [....] How could I? If you were any other woman, I could tell you I loved you, easily enough, but not you--because you've always seemed to me like a part of myself, and it would be like saying I loved my own eyes or my own mind. But have you ever thought of what it would be to have to live without your mind or your eyes, Kate? To be mad? Or blind?” 

Excuse me while I faint.

Okay, I'm revived. 

Four stars!