THE ORACLE GLASS by Judith Merkle Riley
Kirkus Star


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Riley (In Pursuit of the Green Lion, 1990) continues, in her congenially gossipy fashion, to elbow a bright, appealing heroine through some of history's more unlovely byways -- here, a scramble of 17th-century French aristocrats, some of whom (including a royal mistress or two) patronized a flourishing consortium of fortunetellers, poisoners, abortionists, and stagers of black masses. Within this dangerous milieu, a young girl finds notoriety, wealth, love...and an exit. ""This wicked world of ours needs its witches,"" says ""La Voisin"" (like several other characters, a real personage), czarina of a network of occult practitioners, who at one point ""held the entire kingdom of France in her hands."" It was La Voisin, recognizing promising material in the grieving, crippled, raging 16-year-old daughter of a noble house of cruelty (and, as it turned out, murder), who snatched Genevieve Pasquier from suicide and groomed her for a fortunetelling career. So the ""Marquise de Morville,"" 150 years old, dressed in antique style with white face-paint, is created and is a smashing success. She'll read for the stupid queen as well as for King Louis XIV and his reigning mistress, both sleekly ferocious as adders. Genevieve is under contract to La Voisin, who rules the curious domesticity of her rue Beauregard house, home of mysterious cabinets, little bottles, a lovely garden with a smoking chimney, and a busy kitchen where cheerful women boil down...well, never mind. In the meantime, the ""Marquise"" dotes on one man and finds another, learns of murders close to home, and, with police closing in and the house at rue Beauregard about to fall, achieves a very narrow escape. Not quite as murkily scary as Anne Rice's grue-fests, but chilly, witty, and completely engrossing. With a cheerful skewering (historically grounded) of the sheer, cretinous awfulness of the Sun King's satellites, plenty of skittery action, and a wisp of the supernatural (the heroine does ""see"" the future). Great good fun.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Viking