Monday, April 16, 2007

Number nine is Serpent's Garden by Judith Merkle Riley. Yes, polished off another by her, as G's friend lent me another, and I don't like keeping books from people for long. So this one did some line jumping in front of the 'heavier' book I'm also currently reading.

Merkle Riley obviously has a bit of a 'pattern' in her books. Her main characters are modern women but in historical settings. Like Genevieve from Oracle Glass, Susanna Dollett has been well educated for a woman of Renaissance England. In fact, she's so well educated (by her father) that she can actually earn a living from her trade, she's a master painter. But of course, because she's a woman, she'll never be recognized as such. She's married off to a rather horrible man who really only wanted to know her father's secrets, and so agrees to marry her. Susanna wants to be a good wife, but her husband is a philanderer who is eventually murdered in his mistress' bed by her husband. Susanna's life of course gets better then, albeit rather strange.

Merkle Riley also seems to have a fondness for quirky demons, as another one shows up here as well. The plot seems more mudled in this book, as she throws in a lot of Priory of Scion/Templar/Holy Blood, Holy Grail conspiracy stuff in here that doesn't really seem to be a good... fit? The court intregue that Susanna becomes embroiled in through her painting talents seems to be enough; she ends up being in the service of the powerful Cardinal Wolsey and having to accompany the Princess Mary (Henry VIII's younger sister) to France for her marriage to the King of France, and all of this seems plenty. The plot to put the Meroviginian's back on the French throne seemed tacked on and rather... well, given the DaVinci Code crappola, tired. (and yes, I know this book came out well before the DaVinci Code, but I guess I'm just a little tired of all these consipiracy theories).

Overall, it is a nice book, a quick read, and Susanna is a nice character, but no, I didn't think this was as good as Oracle Glass.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Numeral VIII of the year is The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley. Its a book recommended to me by one of G's friends who also has a prediliction to historical 'fantasy', so I take her recommendation seriously.

This was a lovely book set in the time of the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King of France. Now, I know quite a bit about the French Revolution and the last of the days of Louis XVII and Marie Antoinette and whatnot, but before that, not much. Really, my knowledge of earlier France was through the Three Muskateers and whatnot, so not exactly in depth, but a rough idea.

The main character of the Oracle Glass is one Genevieve Pasquier, a girl from a decent family that's fallen on hard times. Her mother is a society-climber who cannot seem to get very far, and continuously rails against her lack of position. Genevieve's father is a failed financier who now buries himself in his philosophy books and doesn't have much time for any of his family save for Genevieve, and so he passes on his love of the great Greek philosophers to his daughter. Genevieve grows up very eductated in some things, not so much in others. But it does give her a shrewd mind and a very different way of looking at French society.

After her mother poisions both her husband and her mother-in-law, Genevieve escapes her family (basically by having her own death faked) and begins a new life as a fortune teller, under the tutaledge of the most famous and powerful witch in Paris at the time, La Voisin. Genevieve is recreated as the century-old Marquise de Morville, who is adept at reading futures in vases of clear water. It is interesting that Riley actually does seem to give Genevieve actual talent at being psychic, as that's the really only 'supernatural' element of the book. Otherwise, all the other fortune telling talents are exposed for what they are; card tricks, hoaxes and some fairly advanced psychoanalysis. Its really quite fascinating especially as I never knew that fortune telling was in such vogue during the Louis XIV's time.

Also quite fascinating is the web of underground politics amongst the witches. They are also suppliers of love potions, of posions, and abortions. They subtely influence the court, especially when they give predicitons on who the King may or may not take as his latest mistress. I love books with court intregue, and this one has it in spades.

We follow Genevieve through a few years of her life, as she deals with first her training, then her rise in the court, her battle of wits with her overbearing and powerful patroness, and her trials and tribulations with love and the law.

Its a very well done book, the historical details are lovely and the characters all very well drawn with Genevieve being strong enough, yet quirky enough as well to be believable.