Beanpole"" Mary is the tar one, biggest and most beautiful in her medieval village. Mary heeds her mam's injunctions to ""be cunning"" and by the end of this puckish, picaresque romp, has used her looks and brains to achieve not only reasonable wealth but an amazing degree of independence for a lowborn woman. Her adventures range from affairs with local ploughmen (one of whom leaves her pregnant) to being lady's maid at the manor (where she gets some good laughs from the courtly tradition). She loves and goes off with Pergrin Fenn, a traveling physician and alchemist, but he is more infatuated with the Philosopher's Stone than with her. When he kicks her out, her brother Dickon sells her in marriage to a dwarf in a traveling freak show, and from there she escapes to a nunnery, where she learns to read. Mary turns each misadventure into a source of wisdom and profit, winding up with her own freehold farm and the consequent ability to pick a husband or not, as she wishes. And Jefferis (Time of the Unicorn) turns each earthy episode into an anti-romantic twist on historical romancing--liberated and liberating entertainment.