Oracle Glass

Oracle Glass

by Judith Merkle Riley


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New York Times and USA Today Bestseller!

"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

Her ability to see the future may prevent her from living in the present...

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.

More Praise for The Oracle Glass:
"Absorbing and arresting."—New York Times
"Fascinating and factual."—Los Angeles Times
"Chilly, witty, and completely engrossing ... great, good fun."— Kirkus Reviews
"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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402270581
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 11/06/2012
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 165,406
Product dimensions: 5.38(w) x 7.84(h) x 1.38(d)

About the Author

Judith Merkle Riley (1942-2010) held a Ph.D from the University of California at Berkeley, and she taught in the department of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA. From 1988 to 2007, she wrote six historical novels: The Oracle Glass, The Master of all Desires, A Vision of Light, In Pursuit of the Green Lion, The Water Devil, and The Serpent Garden.

Read an Excerpt


"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 petitioners who believed she could make their fortunes: impecunious countesses, overspent abbés and chevaliers, titled libertines raddled with the Italian disease, the society doctor Rabel, the notorious diabolist Duc de Brissac and his sinister companions.

"Ah, there is someone who can introduce us," cried the ambassador, as he intercepted a slender, olive-skinned young man on his way to the refreshment table. "Primi, my friend here and I would like to make the acquaintance of the immortal marquise."

"But of course," answered the young Italian. "The marquise and I have been acquainted for ages." He waggled his eyebrows. It was only a matter of minutes before the chief of police found himself face-to-face with the subject of so many secret reports, being appraised with almost mathematical precision by the subject's cool, gray eyes. Something about the erect little figure in black irritated him unspeakably.

"And so, how is the most notorious charlatan in Paris doing these days?" he asked the fortune-teller, annoyance overcoming his usual impeccable politeness.

"Why, she is doing just about as well as the most pompous chief of police in Paris," the marquise answered calmly. La Reynie noted her perfect Parisian accent. But her speech had a certain formality, precision-as if she were somehow apart from everything. Could she be foreign? There were so many foreign adventurers in the city, these days. But as far as the police could tell, this one, at least, was not engaged in espionage.

"I suppose you are here to sell the secret of the cards," he said between his teeth. Even he was astonished at how infuriated she could make him feel, simply by looking at him the way she did. The arrogance of her, to dare to be amused by a man of his position.

"Oh, no, I could never sell that," replied the devineresse. "Unless, of course, you were considering buying it for yourself..." The marquise flashed a wicked smile.

"Just as well, or I would have you taken in for fraud," La Reynie found himself saying. Himself, Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, who prided himself on his perfect control, his precise manners-who was known for the exquisite politeness he brought even to the interrogation of a prisoner in the dungeon of the Châtelet.

"Oh, naughty, Monsieur de La Reynie. I always give full value," he could hear her saying in answer, as he inspected the firm little hand that held the tall, black walking stick. A ridiculous ring, shaped like a dragon, another, in the form of a death's-head, and yet two more, one with an immense, blood red ruby, overburdened the narrow, white little fingers. The hand of a brilliant child, not an old woman, mused La Reynie.

"Your pardon, Marquise," La Reynie said, as she turned to answer the desperate plea of an elderly gentleman for an appointment for a private reading. "I would love to know where you are from, adventuress," he muttered to himself.

As if her ear never missed a sound, even when engaged in mid-conversation elsewhere, the marquise turned her head back over her shoulder and answered the chief of police: "‘From'?" She laughed. "Why, I'm from Paris. Where else?"

Lying, thought La Reynie. He knew every secret of the city. It was impossible for such a prodigy to hatch out, unseen by his agents. It was a challenge, and he intended to unravel it for the sake of public order. A woman should not be allowed to annoy the Lieutenant General of the Paris Police.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Open the pages and out comes a whiff of brimstone, as The Oracle Glass transports you to the Paris of kings and witches, on a guided tour of corruption, love and sorcery." - Diana Gabaldon

"This historically accurate, exciting novel — and a true-crime story with the flavor of Umberto Ecco's The Name of the Rose and a little Mary Stewart thrown in — is a remarkable tour de force and a compelling read. Don't miss this one! " - Jean M. Auel, author of The Clan of the Cave Bear series

"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

"The Oracle Glass was a wonderful, magical read. " - She Reads Novels

"Historical fantasy is one of my favorite sub-genres, and it's so hard to find good books that fit, but this one was great!" - Readin and Dreamin

"This book is packed full of treachery, murder, deceit, revenge, mystery, and secrets." - Romance Book Junkies

"The bottom line, I would definitely recommend the book if you enjoy the genre, or if you're looking for a really cheap trip to Paris and have a good imagination. And should I come across another of Riley's books in the future, I won't hesitate to add it next to The Oracle Glass on my book shelf." - Leslie's 2 cents

"It feels like peering behind the curtain of a great stage play to see what's really happening." - The Gilmore Guide to Books

"I truly enjoyed the story" - That's What I'm Talking About with Twimom227

Customer Reviews