From the moment Meggy Swann wabbles on scene with a terse assessment of her new living situation with her long-absent father (“Ye toads and vipers!), I was swept up in this robustius book. Cushman transported me to smelly, raucous and mysterious London in Elizabethan times with a deft hand and a exuberant use of deliciously old-fashioned words (gallimaufry! belike! laboratorium!). And she piles trouble upon trouble on dear Meggy — ” her legs did not sit right in her hips;” her alchemist father can neither remember her name nor remember to feed her; she’s blamed for a neighbor’s fire and her best friend, a goose named Louise, is banished from the house for getting her head stuck in a beaker. Meggy’s struggle to transform from a country girl to a city girl, from loner to friend, parallels her father’s struggle to complete the ultimate transformation: turning liquid into gold and gold into an elixir for eternal life. Meggy is none too fond of Master Peevish, as she calls her father, but she does not want to see his head among those impaled on London Bridge. So what is she to do when she learns he may be involved in a murder plot? She engages in a little alchemy of her own, using words rather than elements.
In addition to being one of the best books I’ve read in a good long while, it is also very educational and has provided me with ample ammunition the next time someone cuts in front of me in traffic — I might call out, “Begone, you carbuncled toad!” or “A pestilence take you, you rump-faced knave,” or even perhaps my favorite, “Go then, you writhled, beetle-brained knave!”
(Disclaimer: I read this book in ARC form, sent to me by the author’s publisher)