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.