Neglected, angry, and uncertain, Meggie scowls at the world. But gradually, her friendship with Roger, a player's boy, grows (mainly because he is incredibly patient with her), and she finds herself on cordial terms with a few of the tradesfolk in her new London neighborhood, although there are others who still hold the the medieval beliefs that lameness like Meggie's is a sign of sin. But up on the top floor of her new house, her father is busily trying to turn base metal into gold. To do this, he needs money....and alchemy can be put to more sinister uses. Like murder and treason....
Cushman strikes just the right balance here between historical accuracy and a lively story of contemporary interest. The dialogue is particularly zesty, managing to be Elizabethan-esque while still fun to read. Here's an example, picked more or less at random:
"Of a sudden the door banged open. "Come, Meggy Swann," Roger called. "We are off to the river in search of a breeze."
She looked up, hiding the joy she felt at seeing him, and said, "Pray sir, pardon me. For a moment I mistook you for someone I did once knew. Someone who swore he was a friend and then abandoned me to sink under my afflictions in this--"
"Nay, Meggy, be not spleeny. I was occupied with drilling the apprentices and learning a new part myself." (page 95)
Meggy is at first not the most likable of characters (she is indeed very spleeny), but she sure has reason to be more than a bit prickly. I found it a pleasure to watch her gain confidence, and realizing that she actually does have the power to change her own circumstances. The story of how she finds a place in the world is both moving and believable (well, pretty believable. In all likelihood, she would have ended up begging in the gutters, but I'm glad she didn't).
Recommended to those who like detail-rich historical fiction or books featuring characters with disabilities, and in particular to those interested in alchemy, Elizabethan theatre, and the difficulties of keeping a pet goose in 16th/17th London on a limited budget!
(nb: review copy received from the publisher, via The Picnic Basket, where you can read the thoughts of many others in the comments on this post)