The Serpent Garden
by Judith Merkle Riley
Penguin, 1996, ISBN 0-14-025880-9
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is another of Riley's historicals with fantastic content, this time set fairly early in the reign of Henry VIII, taking place partly in London and partly at the French royal court. Susannah Dallet is the wife of a painter, and also the daughter of a painter, who taught his trade to his daughter. When Susannah's husband is murdered in strange circumstances and leaves her only his debts to pay off, she has to find a way to make money. She resorts to the only means she has, painting, but since the guild will not accept women members or allow non- members to paint, she passes her work off as things her husband and another dead painter, her neighbor's husband, painted before they died. By gossip and connivance and the occasional assistance of an angel--yes, a real angel--Susannah becomes attached to the household of Bishop Wolsey, and is subsequently sent to France in the entourage of King Henry's sister, Princess Mary, when she goes to marry the king of France. Wanting only to live a reasonably comfortable life, she finds herself contesting with malicious gentlemen, demons, and a surviving heretical offshoot of the Templars, who are plotting against the French king. This is great fun.