Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman: Book Rambling

Alchemy and Meggy SwannAlchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ye toads and vipers!

Meggy is sent to London because her father, who she knows nothing about, summoned her. When he discovers Meggy is both a girl and a cripple, he wants nothing to do with her. Meggy’s mother had been only too glad to send the girl away from being underfoot since the death of her Gran two years back. She is given a few coins and a tiny bit of food by Roger, her father’s old serving boy who is now off to make his living as a player. Meggy is alone in the world, friendless save for the goose Louise.

Scorned, jeered at and tormented for all her short life, it is difficult to tell if it is Meggy’s temper or her tongue that is sharper. Her stubbornness is matched only by that of her eccentric alchemist father. That stubbornness is what makes Meggy challenge herself. Though walking (or wabbling as she calls it) pains her legs and her arms, Meggy finds herself taking to the city streets more and more over the course of the book. At first she ventures out in search of food sellers and to find grass where Louise can eat. Later, she sets out on errands to find things necessary to her father’s great work.

Meggy’s father is absorbed in trying to find the Philospher’s Stone, to combine the correct ingredients to change the base essence of things. It takes almost all his income and all his attention. It seems as if he cannot even remember his daughter’s name. When an incident with Louise in his laboratory leads to the breaking of a glass vessel, he orders the bird out of his tiny home to be roasted. Meggy delivers the goose instead to the house of players Roger now calls home. Some of the father’s errands seem pointless. At other times Meggy hears strange comings and goings in the night. When it becomes clear that her father is involved in less than savory dealings to get the coin to fund his experiments, Meggy is forced to make a decision to look after herself or after others.

I listened to the audio version of this book. The narration is masterfully done. Meggy’s many insults and insights left me laughing. I loved how the fights with Roger changed from Meggy’s explosive anger to the banter of friends. The cast of supporting characters made this story. There was the adorable Nicholas, the Cooper’s son, and the printer who let Meggy sell his broadsides. There was Mistress Grim and all the children at the printer’s house who added a level of merriment. There is the cloth seller who sees only demons and witches when he sees Meggy, convinced her ailment is due to devilry.

The end of the book wraps up neatly, maybe a little too neatly. I enjoyed it because it showed how much the characters rely on one another and can work together. There was a hint of danger when one act was misinterpreted as treasonous rather than helpful. I also enjoyed the genuineness of the characters. Meggy and the others were allowed to be angry without cause, to misinterpret the actions of others, to want to hang on to being upset and to be ridiculous at times.

The book’s afterword is a wealth of information about the time period in which this book takes place. Make sure to read it as well!

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