Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Author: Karen Cushman

When Meggy Swann and her best friend, the goose Louise, are casually deposited at her father’s front door, Meggy is not in the best of moods–actually, I’m not sure that her moods could ever be described as anything but sharp and grumpy at best. Of course, being called to join her father in London when she’s never even met him before probably doesn’t help, especially when he summarily ignores her after finding out she’s not the boy he expected. The common opinion of folks in Elizabethan England regarding those with physical disabilities (like Meggy) might have something to do with it, too. Basically, she’s just been dumped in a really bad situation with no obvious way out–she’ll have to see what can be done with her sharp wit, quick tongue, and stubborn determination.

Karen Cushman is a magician, no doubt about it. In Alchemy and Meggy Swann, she evokes setting of Elizabethan London in masterful display through carefully chosen detail and even more brilliantly chosen writing. Her word choice is amazing–she uses terms that evoke the time (ugglesome, for instance), but that are still quite comprehensible in context. In addition to a fabulously-written setting, Cushman brings in an array of convincing characters from Roger the player and her father’s ex-apprentice who is Meggy’s equal when it comes to wit; to Mr. Swann her father, an alchemist of but small renown, struggling to make enough to keep his precious research going; to Meggy herself, sharp, vulnerable, but somehow resilient as well. I appreciate the way the story flows so naturally from the characters and the setting–and the fact that Cushman doesn’t feel the need to make the characters entirely lovable. Alchemy and Meggy Swann is definitely a recommended historical novel–great story!

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