In my ongoing quest to create my own version of the best fifty books I've chosen to put up fifty-two posts, each showcasing one book I think stands tall among its peers and why I like it. I won't be adding any books in the spirit of "you should read/like/buy this book". It's all about the book, how we met and why I love it.
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. 1971.
I was foraging in the second-hand book shop in Devonport's Four Ways. I turned up a book with MAGIC QUEST on the cover. The naff cover picture put me off, showing as it apparently did a curly-haired girl peering at a nest of fairies, but as I turned it over, a comment about unicorns and eggs alerted me. I recognised that as a reference to a book by Madeleine L'Engle. If this series included books by M-L, I reasoned, it couldn't be as cheesy as the picture implied. I read the book's own blurb and paid up my coin.
I read the book with delight, and it immediately vaulted over almost every other book I'd ever read to reach the heights of my "favourites" list. I loved the lucid style with the lovely touches of detail that never overwhelm the story. I loved the central character, Kate Sutton, a disgraced lady-in-waiting who took the fall for her sister's misdeed and who remained resolutely true to her self. I liked the low key romance, which included one of the oddest and most touching declarations of affection I have ever encountered. I liked the fact that so many of the characters wanted opposing things; they could have been enemies or "bad guys" but instead were simply honest people wanting the best for themselves and others. There's a Tam Lin theme running through the story, which also intrigued me, and the period - the 1550s - was familiar from books by Geoffrey Trease.
I have since seen the same book in other covers (see above), all of which are more appropriate and pleasing than the first one I saw. And yet, seeing Kate dressed in the garments she probably would have worn might put off potential readers because she looks so stiff and doll-like. The fourth cover shows a much more accessible girl, wearing a stage-musical version of the costume. It's historically incorrect, but it might appeal to more readers.
Naturally, I sought more books by my new favoured author and was disappointed to discover only one more; The Sherwood Ring, published in the late 1950s.