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The Oracle Glass

Cover of The Oracle Glass

The Oracle Glass

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New York Times and USA Today Bestseller!

"Absorbing and arresting." —New York Times

"Fascinating and factual." —Los Angeles Times

"Chilly, witty, and completely engrossing ... great, good fun." — Kirkus Reviews

"An outstanding historical novel of 17th–century France ... based on a real–life scandal known as the Affaire des Poisons, this tale is riveting from start to finish." —Library Journal

For a handful of gold, Madame de Morville will read your future in a glass of swirling water. You'll believe her, because you know she's more than 150 years old and a witch, and she has all of Paris in the palm of her hand. But Madame de Morville hides more behind her black robes than you know. Her real age, the mother and uncle who left her for dead, the inner workings of the most secret society of Parisian witches: none of these truths would help her outwit the rich who so desperately want the promise of the future. After all, it's her own future she must control , no matter how much it is painted with uncertainty and clouded by vengeance.

"Take a full cup of wit, two teaspoons of brimstone, and a dash of poison, and you have Judith Merkle Riley's mordant, compelling tale of an ambitious young woman who disguises herself as an ancient prophetess in order to gain entry into the dangerous, scheming glamour of the Sun King's court. Based on scandalous true events, The Oracle Glass brims with our human foibles, passions, and eccentricities; it's a classic of the genre and unlike any historical novel you have ever read." —C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

New York Times and USA Today Bestseller!

"Absorbing and arresting." —New York Times

"Fascinating and factual." —Los Angeles Times

"Chilly, witty, and completely engrossing ... great, good fun." — Kirkus Reviews

"An outstanding historical novel of 17th–century France ... based on a real–life scandal known as the Affaire des Poisons, this tale is riveting from start to finish." —Library Journal

For a handful of gold, Madame de Morville will read your future in a glass of swirling water. You'll believe her, because you know she's more than 150 years old and a witch, and she has all of Paris in the palm of her hand. But Madame de Morville hides more behind her black robes than you know. Her real age, the mother and uncle who left her for dead, the inner workings of the most secret society of Parisian witches: none of these truths would help her outwit the rich who so desperately want the promise of the future. After all, it's her own future she must control , no matter how much it is painted with uncertainty and clouded by vengeance.

"Take a full cup of wit, two teaspoons of brimstone, and a dash of poison, and you have Judith Merkle Riley's mordant, compelling tale of an ambitious young woman who disguises herself as an ancient prophetess in order to gain entry into the dangerous, scheming glamour of the Sun King's court. Based on scandalous true events, The Oracle Glass brims with our human foibles, passions, and eccentricities; it's a classic of the genre and unlike any historical novel you have ever read." —C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

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  • From the book

    One

    "What, in heaven's name, is that?" The Milanese ambassador to the court of His Majesty, Louis XIV, King of France, raised his lorgnon to his eye, the better to inspect the curious figure that had just been shown into the room. The woman who stood on the threshold was an extraordinary sight, even in this extravagant setting in the year of victories, 1676. Above an old-fashioned Spanish farthingale, a black brocade gown cut in the style of Henri IV rose to a tight little white ruff at her neck. Her ebony walking stick, nearly as tall as herself, was decorated with a bunch of black silk ribbons and topped with a silver owl's head. A widow's veil concealed her face. The hum of voices at the maréchale's reception was hushed for a moment, as the stiff little woman in the garments of a previous century threw back her black veil to reveal a beautiful face made ghastly pale by layers of white powder. She paused a moment, taking in the room with an amused look, as if fully conscious of the sensation that her appearance made. As a crowd of women hurried to greet her, the Milanese ambassador's soberly dressed companion, the Lieutenant General of the Paris Police, turned to make a remark.

    "That, my dear Ambassador, is the most impudent woman in Paris."

    "Indeed, Monsieur de La Reynie, there is obviously no one better fitted than you to make such a pronouncement," the Italian responded politely, tearing his eyes with difficulty from the woman's fiercely lovely face. "But tell me, why the owl's-head walking stick? It makes her look like a sorceress."

    "That is exactly her purpose. The woman has a flair for drama. That is why all of Paris is talking about the Marquise de Morville." The chief of the Paris police smiled ironically, but his pale eyes were humorless.

    "Ah, so that is the woman who has told the Queen's fortune. The Comtesse de Soissons says she is infallible. I had thought of consulting her myself, to see if she would sell me the secret of the cards."

    "Her mysterious formula for winning at cards-another of her pieces of fakery. Every time someone wins heavily at lansquenet, the rumor goes about that the marquise has at last been persuaded to part with the secret of the cards. Secret, indeed..." said the chief of police. "That shameless adventuress merely capitalizes on every scandal in the city. I believe in this secret about as much as I believe her claims to have been preserved for over two centuries by alchemical arts."

    Hearing this, the Milanese ambassador looked abashed and put away his lorgnon.

    La Reynie raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me, my dear fellow, that you were considering purchasing the secret of immortality as well?"

    "Oh, certainly not," the ambassador said hastily. "After all, these are modern times. In our century, surely only fools believe in superstitions like that."

    "Then half of Paris is composed of fools, even in this age of science. Anyone who loses a handkerchief, a ring, or a lover hastens to the marquise to have her read in the cards or consult her so-called oracle glass. And the damned thing is, they usually come away satisfied. It takes a certain sort of dangerous intelligence to maintain such deception. I assure you, if fortune-telling were illegal, she's the very first person I'd arrest."

    The Marquise de Morville was making her way through the high, arched reception hall as if at a Roman triumph. Behind her trailed a dwarf in Moorish costume who carried her black brocade train, as well as a maid in a garish green striped gown who held her handkerchief. Around her crowded...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 30, 1994
    From the author of In Pursuit of the Green Lion comes a novel set in 17th-century Paris and Versailles, tinged with the occult and a feminist sensibility. The younger daughter of a loveless marriage between a scholar and a woman of high breeding, Genevieve Pasquier appears to have few prospects, since she was born with a deformed leg. Taught Latin by her father, however, she has a keen intelligence that stands her in good stead when, after leaving home as a teenager, she is adopted by a wealthy fortune-teller as her protegee. Genevieve has the gift of seeing the future in water, a talent that Catherine Montvoison, a real-life figure who was both a seer and an undercover abortionist to the aristocracy, quickly exploits. Played out against the background of Louis XIV's court, the narrative offers ample glances into the lives of the nobility, as well as intrigue and a love triangle involving Genevieve, an outlaw and a society playwright. Unfortunately, the author's impressive knowledge of the time is offset by wooden characterization and predictable plotting, and her story never quite breaks the bounds of competent genre fiction. Toward the climax, scenes of torture, witch-hunts and executions will satisfy those who like their historical fiction laced with a touch of horror; for readers who enjoy an exotic setting with a celebrity slant, the novel offers an intriguing vacation read.

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