I thought I’d try something new here on Ave Historia. Every Tuesday I’ll post a teaser from whatever historical fiction novel I’m currently reading – and follow up with a review on Friday. For this week, enjoy a snippet from an old favorite of mine – a book that is my literary equivalent of comfort food.
“Tell me – you asked a question, now I get one,” she said. “You speak so well, you must come from a good family. Why are you here alone? What makes you want to suffer pain and dishonor to join a world you know nothing about? You could be reading to your old father, or embroidering in one of those comfortable convents for rich girls . . .”
“Revenge,” I said. “There is a man I hate. She has promised to make me strong enough to destroy him.”
“Only one?” observed La Trianon. “My, you are young.”
— From The Oragle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley. Throw a crippled and intelligent young girl with a talent for fortunetelling into the snake pit of the Sun King’s court, add an outrageous con job and a dash of black magic, garnish with real historical figures like Louix XIV and his various mistresses, dust with arsenic and stir to a boil . . .
Read my review on Friday!
As promised, a review of Tuesday’s teaser.
THE ORACLE GLASS
Teenage Genevieve Pasquier might have grown up in Paris under the reign of Louis XIV, but she has no desire for the high society life at court which her beautiful sister and ambitious mother crave. Genevieve, cursed with a crippled foot and blessed with a brilliant mind, just wants to read books and discuss philosophy with her adored father. But her father’s death and her family’s greed tears Genevieve away from everything she knows, and into an entirely new life.
If the Sun King rules France, the Shadow Queen rules his court. The amused and amoral Madame Montvoisin has built a vast business network providing Louis XIV’s jaded courtiers with love spells, good luck charms, illicit abortions, Black Masses, and anything else illegal and occult that takes their fancy. Taking Genevieve under her wing as apprentice, La Voisin grooms an aristocratic girl with a talent for telling fortunes into Versailles’s most celebrated society fortune-teller: the Marquise de Morville, over one hundred years old and preserved in eternal youth. Genevieve’s unconventional career brings her wealth, vengeance, perhaps even love – but what will happen when La Voisin’s underground empire of Satanism and poison trading is dragged into the light of day?
“The Oracle Glass” is a rarity among historical fiction: erudite but not boring, passionate but not romance-oriented, deadly serious but also deadly funny, and maintaining a perfect balance between fictional characters and historical figures. It’s astounding to see what gullible fools the Sun King’s friends really were, and great fun to see the sharp little Genevieve fleecing them with such gusto. Her growth from bookish girl to vengeance-driven cynic to loving woman is real and touching, and she is surrounded by a host of marvelous side characters. Her patroness La Voisin is an enigma wrapped in a mystery; she might offer you tea and sympathy or she might poison you and bury your body in her garden, but you never fall asleep when she’s on the page. And minor subplots like the housemaid possessed by the world’s most snobbish demon are an absolute scream.
A fascinating look at the Sun King’s court and the infamous Affair of the Poisons which almost brought it down, and a rollicking good read too.