Here I am again this Sunday with another prompt from the Wyrd and Wonder Challenge for Wyrd and Wonder month, celebrating all things Fantasy. I’ve done a post before on my Friday Favorite Five about my favorite female protagonists but I’m going to use today’s prompt as an opportunity to elaborate on one of them, because the author is special to me and I will continue to champion these books whenever I can. 🙂
Judith Merkle Riley is one of my favorite authors of all time and I’ve written about her books and characters before. In general, she wrote fun historical fiction novels with fantastic elements. All of her books featured some flight of fancy–from faith healing to demons and angels and ghosts, fantasy is as much a part of her books as the historical settings. But the best about Judith’s books, in my opinion, are her characters. She really had a knack for writing fun and quirky characters, dastardly villains, but also characters with strong points of view even when they weren’t quite sure what they were doing with their lives.
Judith Merkle Riley wrote six novels and Margaret of Ashbury was the main protagonist of three of them, starting with A Vision of Light. The book begins with Margaret married, and happily so to an indulgent husband. When she says she wants to write her life’s story her wealthy merchant husband hires her a monk to take down her story (as Margaret can not, herself, read and write). And from there we learn her life as the book goes back and forth between Margaret of now and Margaret’s story of her past.
She starts life as a rather ordinary girl growing up in a village, the daughter of nobodies. But she is pretty and makes a ‘good marriage’ which turns out to be awful. When she manages to unshackle herself from that life (with a little help from the black death), her adventures begin in earnest. From there she travels all over England with her new friend and mentor learning mid-wifery and the dangers of women’s work. Honestly, Margaret just wants to settle down and live a simple life, but she always seems to get swept up in adventures.
The thing I love most about Margaret is that she is a bit anachronistic. She’s a medieval women with some modern sensibilities. She’s always questioning why the world is the way it is. Why can women do some things and not others? Why are there so many hypocrisies? She’s stubborn but she’s so very unassuming. You think, at first glance, she’d be the kind of person you could roll over easily, and although she may get knocked down or have set backs, Margaret somehow always finds a way for things to work out for her in the end. She’s kind and caring, and maybe sometimes a bit naive, but she’s also extremely determined and practical–if she wants something she’s going to make it happen one way or another even if it takes a slow and steady approach. And she’s not above pointing out life’s absurdities along the way.
I could go on about how much I love Margaret all day, especially in the second book in the series, In Pursuit of the Green Lion, in which Margaret travels to France to rescue her husband. But, I’ll stop before I get into spoilers in case some of you want to check out these books for yourself. 🙂