Oracle Glass

Oracle Glass

by Judith Merkle Riley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402270581
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 11/06/2012
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 427,621
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

Diana Gabaldon

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

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

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The Oracle Glass 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 89 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this book from the library and ended up with so much overdue fines and worse I had to pay for the book cause I refused to return it. It was that good! This book has EVERYTHING. A great historical theme,a strong and brilliant heroine, an intellectual and lovable hero and a delicious lovestory. Who could ask for more? One more thing, I always love Ms Riley's thorough and very realistic approach to historical settings. She does the best research and puts them into pen and paper with just enough breath to make them oh so alive for her readers. This one in particular is her best work ever! This is a must read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i can't say enough wonderful things about this book. as an avid reader of eveything from romance, to Star Wars, to nonfictional world history, i would still have to say that its one of the best books i have ever read, if not the best. Ms. Reily has presented a marvelous, well-written story, full of unforgetteable charaters, and just the right mix of romance, intrigue, magic,betrayal, and emotion. Any collection is empty without it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Strictly picky about my reading choices, I was turned onto JMR by another author. Riley has a mastery of detail and history that makes not only the fictional characters life like but the true ones too!!! A beautiful blend of Parisian history, sorcery, romance and adventure. The story turns like a serpents head but never leads you far from your path. A must for the historical novel reader! I recomend it so much I've already given my copy away to a friend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and read it diligently from the moment I found it. The characters are well written and realistic, the plot really lets you know where the book is going, and it's a wonderful ride the whole way through. I loved the Marquise de Morville, otherwise known as Genevieve Pasquier. It is well worth the read. If you enjoy tales of sorcery, you'll be learning about seventeeth century Paris while you read as well!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. The characters are rich, the details are accurate, and the story is inspiring. JMR is a genius, and I love all her books. I loved all the characters, especially Astaroth/Sylvie. They are so hilarious and vivid.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like some other reviews, I found the story a little slow. But that it was based on facts made it an interesting read. I purchased either as a Free Friday or a Daily Deal and thank B&N for the selection. My friends that enjoy occult, witchcraft will enjoy this 1600's story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lobve the story the characters the plot lines the writing....altogether profound and delightful
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read
Tina_Chan More than 1 year ago
Book Review: The Oracle Glass June 1, 2013 Rating: **** Title: The Oracle Glass Author: Judith Merkle Riley Genre: historical fiction Review: Enjoy reading historical fiction with a dash of magic? This book is for you!   The novel takes place in France during the rule of the Sun King (Louis XIV).  There is a sharp contrast between the poor and the rich.   During this time, many Enlightment ideas and philosophies are being spread across the country, despite the government’s attempt to keep such radical ideas muffled.  As far as I could tell, the details of 17th century France are all accurate.   The main character, Geneviève, is introduced to be a wily young lady who is sick of constantly being overshadowed by her sister’s beauty.  Born with a twisted foot, her mother dismisses her as a good-for-nothing daughter.  Luckily, Geneviève has her father to go to for comfort.  From her father, she learns all about the philosophies of the ancient Greeks and Romans.    One day, Geneviève meets Florent d’Urbec, a radical Enlightment thinker who is one of the few who can challenge Geneviève in a game of wits without humiliating oneself.  d’Urbec nicknames Geneviève “Athena”, after the goddess of wisdom due to the fact she was extremely smart for a time when most women weren’t well educated.   However, tragedy strikes Geneviève when her father—her sole protector in a harsh world—dies.  Her mother and uncle are convinced that he had left Geneviève a hidden fortune because she had always been his favorite child; in truth, he had left her nothing.  However, her uncle doesn’t believe Geneviève when she tells him that she wasn’t hiding any money from him; as a result, he begins  to abuse her.  One day, Geneviève decided she’s had enough and plans on committing suicide.  Right before she jumps into the river to drown herself though, she is saved by La Voisin, a fortuneteller and the Shadow Queen of France.   La Voisin see potential in Geneviève and decide to taker her under her wing.  Geneviève can’t help but feel that there is something sinister about the Shadow Queen, however, her desire for revenge for her uncle’s mistreatment wins out her gut instincts.  The Shadow Queen promises Geneviève great power and the ability to extract revenge on her uncle if she agrees to work with/for her.   The Shadow Queen fakes Geneviève’s death so that she may begin a new life.  Taking the disguise of Marquise de Morville, a supposedly one-hundred-plus year old lady who had the body of young woman due to alchemy, she quickly rises up the social ranks.   In the meantime, Desgrez, an honest and intelligent police officer, can’t help but be suspicious that there is an underground network of assassins, spies, criminals and poison-providers going on in France right beneath his nose.  Eventually, his suspicions  lead him to Geneviève.  Genevive must make a choice: should she betray the woman who gave her a new life or should put the lives of others in danger. Likes:         *very descriptive details that really allow me to paint a picture in my mind         *accurate facts Dislikes:         *the pacing was on the slow side--would've enjoyed if the author had either cut some scenes of sped up the actions
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
best book I have read in a long time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'd give it two and a half stars if I could but gave it three as I couldn't split the difference. The book is a good concept but could have been written in half the number of pages. At times it is a wearying read and 3/4 through, I was ready to just forget it and go to another book. The writer just pounds her nails too deeply in wandering inner reflections so the book seems to at many times suffocate itself. I love history and long books (Stephen King's 1000+ pager the Stand for example) don't bother me at all. This one just seemed to get tiring. Interesting characters, some not very realistic, and in real life, a lot doesn't just work out as it did in this book. It tries hard but doesn't really be what it tries to be if that makes any sense. It's a bit fantasy guised under fiction clothed in attempt at being "real life" and shrouded in unlikely connections and scenarios. It's ok as a read but not going on my shelf as one of my better books or Nook Book which this one is. Hope this helps someone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent, engrossing, and beautifully written!
AnAvidReader0 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. The main character's struggle to figure out who she is at such a young age is very interesting to read. The book followed her character through adulthood and maintained her character's personality. It far exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly rather low considering the subject.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Took me 24 hrs to read and I just wanted it to go on!
plettie2 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
a delicious book for those of you looking for a guilty pleasure. Beautifully written with rich descriptive language, it takes you to the setting and allows you to move about this world as if you are there. The heroine is delightful--a quirky underdog who is strong-willed and questing for true love. What more could you ask for?
Ancientgirl on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Perfect escapist reading. The heroine is strong and witty, there's plenty of romance, court politics, and adventure. Riley is a treasure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Should have been edited for length. Showing as 560 + pages on the nook and I simply can't stand to read anymore. I'm at about page 350 and I no longer care what happens to anyone. Might have been a great read if was less convoluted and had a more straightforward plot. Going to archive and I doubt I will pick it up again to finish.
Norma Fuentes More than 1 year ago
This book is beautiful, I love it so much it has a very special spot in my heart now. I do recommend it a lot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book based on all the great reviews. Found the beginning interesting but it began to drag by the middle. It would have been a better read if not so long. The story became tedious.
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