Sir Duffy’s Promise by Margaret R. Chiavetta is a gentle journey through a new land. It begins with Sir Duffy and his apprentice, Mendel, quietly working in the former’s alchemy shop and continues as the two journey through the land to fulfill a promise made to his grandmother years ago. There are references to “the mistake” that nearly destroyed everyone and that may be about to reoccur and which Sir Duffy and Mendel are trying to stop. Two different people hunt the pair, trying to take something Sir Duffy has, the two face a formidable carnivorous plant, are attacked by pixies, and have other assorted brushes with trouble while on their journey. With all this, the pacing overall is generally relaxed, and there is plenty of time for admiring the new flora and fauna, enjoying delicious meals, and meeting friends.
The chance to explore is one of the strengths of Chiavetta’s work. Another is the bond between Sir Duffy and his apprentice, Mendel, which is one of mutual respect. Sir Duffy is teaching Mendel his trade, alchemy, and accepts Mendel as he is. Chiavetta has chosen to write an autistic hero in Mendel and describes the way he thinks, how spatial boundaries sometimes become blurred for him, what he does to ground himself again, and his ability to see and remember quickly. While not everyone accepts Mendel—his parents do not—the alchemists themselves make room for different ways of though. Chiavetta avoids showing autism as either an entirely crippling illness or a special gift in and of itself. Mendel has autism and he has to learn ways of coping with the world that others do not trouble with; he can also master equations far faster than his teacher. It becomes one aspect of who he is, not the sole defining quality of an inquisitive and inventive young man.
Respect for others plays a primary role in the book. Sir Duffy, Mendel, and their friends are willing to accept the intelligence of the “canny” creatures—the many reasoning beings that share their world, from snake-like gusslesnuffs to carnivorous horses and talking rabbits, and these beings, in turn, are willing to speak with and form friendships with the humans. Neither side questions the worthiness of the other at any point. It is an unusual picture of harmony, all the stronger for being an understated part of the story.
The Alchemist’s Theorem: Sir Duffy’s Promise is recommended for readers who like leisurely exploration of new worlds and tales of friendship. You can find it On the Seattle Book Company page or on Amazon