NESFA Members' Reviews

coverThe Oracle Glass

by Judith Merkle Riley

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Fawcett, 1994, 510 pp, $14.00, October 2001

A couple of years ago I read and reviewed and liked Judith Merkle Riley's The Master of All Desires. The Oracle Glass is very much the same kind of book, and just as good.

Living in Paris during the early part of the reign of Louis XIV, Genevieve Pasquier, has been raised by her father to be highly educated in the classics and to be a sharp, skeptical, inquiring mind. Her mother and brother are foolish people and are convinced that her father hid away a vast fortune before he was ruined politically. When they murder her father and she is raped by her evil uncle, she flees and tries to kill herself but is rescued by a woman -- La Voisin -- who offers to train her to become rich telling the fortunes of the gentry.

As La Voisin has guessed, the girl is a seer and can truly see the future in a glass of water, and she soon does become comfortably well-off.

Because a 17-year-old girl is not very imposing in her own right, La Voisin invents for her the persona of a 175-year-old Marquisse who has gained accidental immortality (her husband was an alchemist). As the Marquisse (with black clothing and makeup to make her look slightly undead -- a 16th century goth) and her formidable classical education, she is reading the future for many of the most important people in Paris and soon in the Court.

Genevieve comes to understand that La Voisin is at the center of a network of witches who deal in poisons and black Masses and infanticide and subtle murder of every sort. Witches they call themselves, but none of them have any true supernatural power -- they're charlatans who nonetheless have real power in France because of their wide network of clients. She, herself is in considerable danger because of her associations with them.

The Paris police are on the track of the prisoners -- will she be caught in their net? Her love life is complicated. She is seeking vengeance on her uncle. And because she sees the future truly, she is getting sucked into Court politics -- nearly always fatal in the long run.

This is a delightful book. Genevieve is witty and interesting, the milieu fascinating, and her intertwined problems nearly labyrinthine.

Highly recommended.

See also my reviews of other books by Judith Merkle Riley: The Master of All Desires, A Vision of Light, and In Pursuit of the Green Lion

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