THE MASTER OF ALL DESIRES by Judith Merkle Riley


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Another dazzling mix of history, romance, and the occult from Riley, a writer who excels at getting the background right and creating strong intelligent heroines (The Serpent Garden, 1996, etc.). France in 1556 is a troubled place. The Protestants are growing in power; King Henri II ignores his queen, Catherine de MÇdici, in favor of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers; the Dauphin is betrothed to Mary, Queen of Scots, a potentially powerful alliance, but he’s a dull and sickly boy. The noble de la Roche family has its troubles too: the parents hope the arranged marriage of their daughter Sibille to brutish but rich Villasse will pay their debts. But Sibille, an unconventional beauty and aspiring poet with large feet but a courageous heart and a good mind, fires a gun at Villasse and, thinking she’s killed him, flees to her aunt Pauline in OrlÇans. There, she accidentally acquires a box that contains the head of Menander, the “Master of all Desires,” who grants wishes in exchange for souls. Meanwhile, Nostradamus, who has seen the future of France (it’s not good), has been summoned by Catherine, who also wants him to predict the future. Not only that, but she, too, wants Menander’s head, and Sibille soon finds herself caught between the queen’s followers, who insist that she come to court, and Villasse, who wants her killed. Sibille falls in love with Nicholas Montevert, a banker’s son, when he saves her from attack by Villasse’s hired henchman. But true love never runs smoothly: as sorcerers concoct deadly potions, Nicholas is banished; the queen plots her rival’s death; and Sibille, hostage to Menander after she opened the box, is soon in mortal danger. Nostradamus can help rescue Sibille, but France is about to be torn apart by civil war. Stylish and intelligent historical fiction that makes even the supernatural credible.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-88450-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999


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