Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Alchemy & Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

I was first introduced to Ms. Cushman's thoroughly-researched, authentic Middle Age historical fiction novels with her book "Catherine, Called Birdy", a hilarious look at medieval courting and one girl's dream to choose her own mate. 

Ms. Cushman typically writes strong female protagonists who go against the grain in their medieval setting.

"Alchemy & Meggy Swann" is more of the same, but what I like about Ms. Cushman's writing is that each character is uniquely herself, even though the settings are similar.

Meggy is a grumpy, sour cripple who is unwanted by everyone.  (It sounds terrible, I know -- but Meggy's personality is so funny -- she has the best insults!)  She travels to London to live with her father, an alchemist who is trying (and failing) to produce the elixir of life -- a substance, Meggy hopes, that could cure her and allow her to dance.

There are actors (players), a cooper, a diabolical murder plot, poetry and a vision of Olde London interwoven with fantastic word play.

I've read just about every medieval historical fiction novel of Ms. Cushman's, and I continue to read them because they are, in a word, empowering.

Not the "I-don't-need-a-man-to-be-happy" sort of empowerment, but the "I-can-go-my-own-way" kind.  There's probably a fine line, but in Ms. Cushman's stories, there are elements of romance and love while at the same time, the characters are also aware that they can be independent, free thinkers while also connecting with those around them.

A healthy sense of identity.

And for those of us who struggle with that (I think of several people my age who are so used to connecting through media that they have fewer social skills and lowered sense of self), it's encouraging to be bolstered up by reading of someone who fights to be and remain who they are.

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