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The Serpent Garden Paperback – April 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140258809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140258806
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,141,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A touch of the supernatural adds spice to Riley's fourth novel, a historical romance filled with high-level political chicanery set in 16th-century France and Tudor England. Susanna Dallet, a young English widow and painter, becomes embroiled in Henry VIII's scheme to marry his sister to the aging French king and thus plant an heir in France. Lucking into the position (unheard of for a woman) of court painter to the would-be bride, Susanna heads for France. Her husband, slain by a jealous sea captain, has left her in debt and in a curious kind of trouble: a band of suspicious strangers, in league with a demon (that's the supernatural part), believes she has a fragment of an ancient book whose secret information is of the utmost importance to the Church and the French royals. In France, Susanna finds herself under surveillance by Englishman Robert Ashton, secretary to King Henry's cunning and ruthless advisor, Archbishop Wolsey. Ashton, of course, falls in love with the winsome widow, and the two of them became enmeshed in the intrigues of the French court. Riley (The Oracle Glass) alternates between a third-person narrative and Susanna's voice, in which the heroine reflects on her life with appealing irreverence and horse sense. Riley's depiction of Susanna's genius for portraiture-Wolsey uses her revealing pictures of French nobles as intelligence briefs-is particularly inspired. Richly populated and lustfully told, this tale punches through the weight of its occasionally overwhelming historical detail with consistently vivid writing and a shrewd, modern irony.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Riley offers a Renaissance adventure that features an exquisite blend of history, intrigue, and high romance. Left penniless after the murder of her lecherous, spendthrift husband, Susanna Dallet is forced to rely on her natural wit and artistic talent to provide for her household. The daughter of a talented Flemish painter, Susanna had been rigorously schooled in the meticulous technique of the portrait miniature. Initially regarded as a curiosity, Susanna soon gains fame and renown as a portraitist. Retained by Thomas Wolsey as the official "paintrix" of the court of King Henry VII, she sails to France as part of Princess Mary's royal wedding entourage. Because she is unwittingly transporting the remnants of a valuable manuscript that holds the key to an age-old mystery, Susanna becomes the target of a diabolical secret society intent on procuring the ultimate power. As danger looms, she must rely on the assistance of an ardent, would-be lover and the otherworldy intervention of an inexplicable supernatural force. Lavish historical fiction with an inventive psychic twist. Margaret Flanagan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Ms. Riley keeps you on the edge of your seat from the very beginning.
sue ellen kozarek
I actually own the hard copy of this book and have read it 3 times in the last 5 or 6 years, I enjoy it that much.
Moriaelini
I really enjoy the way Judith Merkle Riley combines historical fiction with whimsy!
Monagale1

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
The book alternates between the first person of Susannah Dallet, the Dutch-English heroine paintrix, and the third person descriptions of evil deeds of an evil doing demon master and the demon he conspires with. Susannah is just hoot. She's innocent, but intelligent, not quite blissfully unaware of all the rotten stuff going on around her, and she sees the world through her art, in terms of color and pigment, and has quite a bit to say about faces and how to paint in miniature. Not to mention that she must resort to subterfuge to keep practicing her trade in the man's world that is Tudor London and the rest of Renaissance Europe, for that matter. Susannah just wants to paint and be a good girl, but unfortunately her society won't allow her to do both. Through a series of adventures she ends up employed by Cardinal Wolsey to serve in the train of Mary Tudor, bride of the old King Louis of France. The historical detail is excellent here, right down to Jane Poppincourt's affair with the Duc de Longueville, Francis 1 rst libido, and Louis' sending Mary servants back to England. Riley does a wonderful job fusing characterization with Historical fact, and then moving from art to the beyond with demons and angels. At first the demons are a bit boring, but when the angels show up, the whole supernatural element fits right in, and makes for a wonderful tale.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
I absolutely love Judith Merkle Riley's accurate incorporation of the living conditions faced by women during the periods she writes about, and her creative, fun ideas about how they deceive others to survive and thrive in such a harsh culture. The angels made me laugh throughout.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on July 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Riley's delightful historical fiction is marked by wit, elegant writing and heroines with unusual talents and this fourth novel, set in the court of Henry VIII, is no exception.

Susanna Dallet is the daughter of a painter and the wife of another (who married her to learn her father's secrets). Because her husband spends all his money on his mistress, Susanna accepts a commission, in his name, to copy in miniature a portrait of the King's beautiful and willful sister, Mary.

Well taught by her father, she completes the painting herself and delivers it the next evening. But her husband has meanwhile been murdered by a jealous husband, so the painting acquires the cachet of having been completed by a ghost - women and non-guild members being forbidden to paint.

Such court powers as Bishop Thomas Wolsey are not so gullible however and Susanna's talents soon bring her to his notice (after an interlude supporting herself and an extended household through "naughty" religious paintings). Guild rules do not apply in the King's court and Susanna is soon swamped with orders, if not payments.

And when Henry VIII schemes to capture the throne of France by marrying his sister to the aging French king, Susanna is included among the vast wedding party.

Meanwhile, her dead husband's darker activities are dogging her footsteps. Part of a group of Satan worshipers, her husband acquired an ancient manuscript much covetted by his co-conspirators and a faction of the Knights Templar. Not knowing what the book is, Susanna has been cutting the margins as parchment for her miniatures while the devil-worshipers close in.

Romance, suspense, danger and intrigue abound.
Read more ›
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Sophia VINE VOICE on May 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
In "The Serpent Garden," Judith Merkle Riley features another strong woman moving outside the constraints of her society; this one, a "paintrix" forced to support herself. The supporting characters are almost more interesting than Susanna and Ashton. I especially liked the portrayal of Bishop (later Cardinal) Wolsey before he fell from favor, and Marguerite, later to be Queen of Navarre. The descriptions of day-to-day life are interesting and well-written, and the story flows smoothly.
However. This book suffers from what I call the "third act flaw." This storyline is almost identical to "The Oracle Glass" in that it follows the same pattern. Plucky young woman is in a difficult situation. Plucky young woman discovers she has unique and marketable abilities to resolve difficult situation. As she grows in prominence, plucky young woman finds herself accumulating enemies... and so on. (Come to think of it, this plot also is similar to that of "A Vision of Light.") Also, although Hadriel, the cherubs and the demons were amusing, the supernatural elements in "The Oracle Glass" and the Margaret of Ashbury books were both more subtle and more crucial to the plot. A nice read, with a nice ending, but not as good as her earlier works.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book was amazing. As a lover of historical fiction set in France and England, this book has the best of both worlds. Susannah, the main character, is a paintrix who paints under the names of two different dead painters, both men, one her husband. She was an intriguing character, human and flawed, beautiful and talented. Bishop Wolsey was another great character. His manipulations of Susannah kept the plot going. Robert Ashton, the love interest, was at first frustrating because of his stubborness and changeability, but his depth of emotions makes one really want him and Susannah to be together. I have read two other Riley books and this was my favorite. I strongly recommend her books, especially this one, and I plan to read the rest of her books.
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