When a girl with crooked legs moves against her will to Crooked Lane in London in the year 1573, her familiar, relatively comfortable life in the alehouse is forever lost. She is to live with Master Ambrose, dubbed Master Peevish by the girl, the father she assumed asked for her to live with him. Not a man of financial stability, kindness, empathy, or emotion, he does mysterious things in his upstairs laboratorium. This dour scientist, who is searching for the desire to make gold from other materials, only wanted an able-bodied assistant. Meggy is not that person, and his obvious disapproval equates to hours spent alone, little money for food, and neglect for her.
She does her best, however, to live up to the expectations others have about a cripple. She shouts warnings at those who gawk or approach as she struggles with her wabbled walking about London’s bustling, messy streets. Few people look beyond her bent legs to see her lovely eyes and bright cheeks. The first is Roger Oldham, Oldmeat, Old Pigmeat, the young boy previously was Master Ambrose’s assistance. Though the two bellow insults at each others, their friendship surely and slowly grows into a bond of trust and respect. Her neighbors, cooper and his young son, bring out her heart and compassion. Roger’s housemates offer her kindness and care, taking in her cherished pet goose, Louise, and providing her with warmth and respite from the alchemist’s eccentricities and disregard.
Her gran’s advice to “give folks a chance” and meet the world without her fists raised serves her well in the city of knavery and treachery. In time, the angry girl accepts the sincere and well-meant compliments and actions of those who go beyond her hardened exterior to know the kind-hearted young woman.
With a determined voice and strong sense of justice, Meggy makes her way in the world and finds her calling in words and truth. Her speech is filled with wonderful, Elizabethan phrases and constructions, and that period in history is well-portrayed through the broadsides, ballads, printers, street vendors, royalty, and players. Well met, Meggy Swann!
— Julie Reimer
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