by Mary Brown
A story set in medieval times. This girl grows up daughter of the village whore, and is left bereft when her mother dies. She is pretty much shouldered out of town, and sets off on the road seeking her fortune- a husband, really, because that\’s what her mother taught her to aspire to- find a good husband. She wears a magic ring left by her unknown father, turns out it allows her to communicate with animals. So a menagerie slowly gathers- first a dog becomes her companion, then a young mare, both sensible animals to have on a journey. But she also collects a tortoise, a wounded pigeon and a strange creature found miserably exploited for display in a fair- a pig with wings. And innocently falls head over heels in love with a knight she meets on the road. Ignorant infatuation, really. The guy was a bore, and not very nice to her at first. But he needs her because when set upon by robbers he sustains a head injury, goes suddenly blind and looses his memory. She promises to help him find his original home, and cares for him (and all the animals) on the journey…
Well. She\’s smart and kindhearted and a bit naive, but also overweight and considers herself unattractive (often comes across as desperate) and mentions a lot about being glad the knight is blind, so he won\’t mind being with her. The hardships of the road eventually get her fit again, but she doesn\’t realize it until the end. Some of the things that happen in the story I saw coming, others really surprised me. Aside from all these interesting descriptions of nature and weather and how crops are brought in and how travelers are treated and survival travelling afoot in medieval times. They have quite a few run-ins with thieves, soldiers, greedy rich people who should have been their kind hosts, women who turn out to be jealous and spiteful, a ghost in a ruined castle (which I thought at first was a vampire?), a strange little man who rules the forest and other odd magical things. Not the least of which was the flying pig. I did not figure out what the pig really was until the very end- and that became the most interesting part of the book. Curiously, as each creature found what it sought and left the travelling companions- the pigeon a flock to join, the tortoise its proper habitat, the mare her herd, etc- they all had to settle for a less-than-perfect outcome- and yet were content and willing to put up with shortcomings. Our narrator is pulled up short when she realizes at the end that the knight she fell in love with at first sight -now that he appreciates her– is not whom she loves, that a merchant met along the way who proposed to her isn\’t her cup of tea either, so what will she do? (ahem- does she really need a husband?) The ending begged for a sequel, which I bet I would find a lot more interesting, the way it was leaning.
Rating: 3/5 370 pages, 1994