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on March 7, 2000
This is the best book I have read in a long time. Maybe, the best one EVER! I never knew that combining so many genres and characters could result in a stunning achievement! This is the kind of book that makes you want to wish that it never ended. So, when it did, I just started from the beginning. I never got bored!
I was apprehensive about reading "The Oracle Glass" because I have not read anything by this writer before. I got hooked after reading the book jacket because the time of Louis XIV is my favorite period in French history. I have read many books about the real-life characters in this novel, but never were they more hilariously, and accurately!, portrayed than in "The Oracle Glass"!
The main character, Genivieve Pasquier, is refreshing. She is not just very intelligent and well-educated, but clever, witty, and has a dramatic flair. The author takes a chance on making her beauty unconventional. Genivieve has one foot shorter than the other, she is all twisted, and has uncommon, non-classical, features. After the famous sorceress, La Voisin, takes Genivieve under her wing, she does not change her appearance but changes the way people look at Genivieve. I thought that this part was very well thought out. It proves that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and a person is deemed beautiful when they let their inner radiance shine. The fact that she is able to dupe everyone to believe that she is the Marquise de Morville, a 150-year old woman who maintains her youth, is a great lesson in human nature. I also appreciate the fact that she is an independent woman, trying to make a living in a man's world, and succeeding admirably.
All central characters are interesting and well drawn out, without being one-dimensional: Marie-Angelique, Genivieve's sister, is light-headed and supercilious, but she is also kind and devoted to Genivieve. Andre Lamotte is utterly charming and carefree, but he is capable of deep emotions. D'Urbec is very complex, with many facets to his personality, capable of fierce emotions from different ends of the spectrum. LaReynie and Desgrez are at times upright and serious and, at the same time, wily and dubious. Although Genivieve's mother, uncle, and brother are evil and insane, there is a lot of pain in them because of their lowly position in life. Finally, La Voisin is the most mysterious and complicated character of all. She has many motives and agendas. You never know what she's thinking or what she is planning to do. She does a lot of wicked things, but she does them because she does not have another alternative. Women at that time could only look to wealthy patronage or prostitution to get ahead.
This book is full of little details that are hilarious. One such thing is the parrot, Larito. For most of the book, his only utterances are "Hell and damnation" and "Fire and brimstone". Of course, he utters them at the most peculiar moments setting the stage for the hilarity that fills this book as much as tragedy does.
The only things that I did not like were that there was a list of fictional characters in the beginning of the book. I understand that the list of real-life characters is valuable, but the list of fictional characters is unnecessary. The first-time readers know in advance what characters are coming up and that spoils some of the book's surprises. I also would have appreciated a better background of La Voisin in the novel itself. It would have been interesting to know where she came from and how she came to be the greatest sorceress of that time.
Overall, this is a great book. I have never read a book that combines romance, mystery, adventure, and the supernatural so successfully. The greatest thing about this book is that all the characters have their vices, which does not diminish them in the readers' eyes at all. On the contrary, it is easier to suspend disbelief and sympathize with them.
I recommend this book to absolutely everyone. Read it and you won't be disappointed.
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on November 14, 2002
Judith Merkle Riley is one of the best writerrs of historical fiction working today.
As an historian, I am always impressed by Riley's ability to recreate the feeling of a period. The Oracle Glass does a wonderful job of re-creating the world of seventeenth-century Paris where magic and science were uneasy bedfellows.

The story focuses on Genevieve, a young girl who pretends to be an aged crone (very aged---she admits to being well over a 100!). Genevieve works for the famed witch, Catherine Montvoisin but she is also a follower of the new philosophy (science).
Underneath the persona of an aged wise woman and fortune teller, Genevieve remains a young girl. And like all young girls, she is in love---first with a conceited fop and then, finally (!) with a man who is her intellectual equal and who loves her more than he loves himself.

This is the kind of book which you will love to read late at night (preferably a cold winter's night). There is a touch of the supernatural in the story---but it is Riley's mastry of the romance novel which really makes this book great reading for late at night!
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on April 23, 2001
Author Riley does a magnificent job of recreating the life of a young girl in Paris during the reign of Louis XIV. Abandoned in her early years, Genevieve is finally brought home by her kind, scholarly father. Events bring about a change which force her to abandon her family in fear of her life and she is suddenly helped by the mysterious La Voisin. Well known throughout Paris as a fortune teller, La Voisin also has more pratical methods of helping her clients, such as poisons and back room abortions.
Blending fictional characters with historical characters, the author really evokes the time period and it is easy to imagine yourself living during this time. I did think the story was slow to start but after about fifty pages, moved much more quickly. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves good historical fiction.
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on November 12, 2012
Oracle Glass was a very different type of historical read for me, VERY descriptive, it had a soft touch of magic, suspense and some humor. This story is about a woman's (Genevieve's) journey of life, her life and all of the trails tributes along the way. I found it to be a touching, adventurous tale to a woman's very long journey to gain peace in her life and with herself. Die hard historical fans would most enjoy reading Oracle Glass.

What's a girl to do when she's not wanted in the first place? Considered the furthest from the bell of the ball, she trudges her paces through life after losing two loved ones so closely to the other, the only two that really understood her, accepted and loved her. She experiences the most traumatic occurrences one young woman could ever endure, not only from her losses, but from a vicious attack on her by person that called themself family. Found by the leader of a witch's occult while she was leaving her home, she is taken in to a new world, molded and finalized as one of the best of the best seer's of all time. Genevieve goes through a lot of change. Her appearance, company she keeps, the way she lives and many others that could be listed.

One question that always lingered in her mind was, could anyone ever love her? She does not search for it, but does find some companionship. The day love does find her she'll be swept off her feet as she's truly meant to be.

This book is packed full of treachery, murder, deceit, revenge, mystery, and secrets. The ending left a lot for the mind to ponder for it was not final. Is there a plan to continue on with Genevieve's story?

*Warning there are scene(s) that have involve an incest in form of rape and some mentions and situations of abortion. Those who take offence to those occurrences may find some parts of the story unlikable or not to their tastes.
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on June 8, 2013
I wish there was a 3.5 rating...I'm not sure I really "liked" it, but it's probably better than OK. First, the writer is good at putting words and phrases together, so the plot flows and the topic was interesting. I found the "politics" of fortune telling and potion buying in the court of Louis XIV interesting. The downside...the book is long, and the plot was both repetitive and confusing, if that is even possible. The heroine, while sympathetic, really only served as a plot device for the author to explore the "underworld" of Paris during the time period, so about half the time, we really don't care about her or her dilemmas. Many of the characters were real people and the scandal of the "Affair of the Poisons" actually took place, so the more bizarre elements of the story are probably the most accurate. But I think the story would have been stronger with La Voisin as the main character. This book struggles to create a very bright but immature and physically handicapped young woman who really only wants to be loved...or does she really just want revenge on the people who mistreated her. We're expected to believe she successfully pulls off quite a sophisticated scam while not having much in the way of life experience. Revenge can be quite a motivator, but she puts her revenge aside to pursue love not once but twice, despite the danger of exposure. Only to drop love for revenge...what??? Even the author can't decide on her motives and they change a few times too often.
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on May 24, 2013
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction but too often it takes me some time to get into the story. With The Oracle Glass I was totally invested after only a few pages. This is the story of Genevieve Pasquier and her immortal alter ego the Marquise de Morville. We learn how Genevieve transforms from the mistreated daughter of a social climbing woman to one of the most mysterious and sought after fortune tellers in all of Paris.

After the death of the 2 people in the world who actually believed in a better life for little Genevieve she is left so broken and hurt that she seeks only death but she is approached by a woman she met years ago, a woman that promises Genevieve what she wants most in the world: revenge. Her benefactor is none other than the Queen of Shadows: La Voisin who learned of Genevieve's skill for reading water when she was brought to her years ago by her mother. For the first time in her life Genevieve learns that she can be desirable and powerful if she plays her cards right but it doesn't take her long to realize, she doesn't even know what game she's really playing. Through her youthful naiveté and hunger for revenge she sees that she has become a key player in of the most dangerous games in Paris, one that includes deceit, murder, lies, and rituals. Worst of all, she can't possibly escape now that she's a member and one wrong move will send her to her grave. Now she must use her cleverness and wit to stay alive but Genevieve also decides to help herself along the way.

When I started reading this book I was so drawn into the storyline and characters that it didn't seem even remotely possible that any of it was true. It wasn't until I decided to look up what exactly a Black Mass was that I realized that many of the incredible events in the book actually took place. I have since come to the conclusion that 17th century France was certainly very interesting but also a bit too scary for my tastes. The story is very well crafted and the characters definitely come to life. I could easily put myself into Genevieve's place through the story and felt that same fears and frustrations that she must have.

There were parts in the story that very slightly confusing however. There are point when the story shifts from the 1st person telling from the eyes of our protagonist to the 3rd person telling of the story from the perspective of the police. At one point Degrez was seducing Marquise de Brinvillier and I have to say I had to reread that chapter several times because I was confused. The simply referred to her as the Marquise but as the protagonist herself is referred to by the same title I thought at first he was seducing Genevieve.

Overall it's a thoroughly enjoyable (slightly disturbing) read and best of all, many of the events in the book actually took place. You will root for the main character, you will curse her enemies, you will weep for joy at her happiness, you will cringe at her troubles. Highly recommended.
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on May 16, 2013
I just finished reading this book. As a lot of the other reviewers have said, the writing is good, the characters interesting, and the time period well researched.

It is an unusual time period for me. I don't know a lot about 17th Century France. So I enjoyed that piece of the story. But what was really interesting to me is what would happen if someone had just a touch of a real psychic power, in this case reading the future in a container of water, in a period where it was still believed that kind of thing was real?

The book starts with the story of an unwanted child. She is sent off, as an infant, to a Baby Farm, to be nursed and taken care of until she is 5 years old. There are physical deformities and nothing is done about them. But it looks like she was cared for with some affection anyway. She gets returned to her family at the age of 5, and except for her father, who educates her more like a boy, and her grandmother, who is very elderly and can't actually do much for her, she is more allowed to exist than cared about.

Then everything changes, and she has to make her own life and living because those two people are dead, possibly murdered, and there is nothing else that can be done. She finds herself living in a world of people who consider themselves to be witches, and people who make a living as part of what is a kind of underworld. And everything changes again as she begins to make her own life.

I liked the book. I liked the main character and was pulling for her. But mostly the book was well enough written that I could suspend belief and just live in the world the writer had developed.
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on August 15, 2002
One of the things I really like about Judith Merkle Riley's books is that she always puts in little details that add humor, make the setting come alive, or just make the characters more human. I'm not really into writing technically analytical reviews, I just mention what I like. I liked The Oracle Glass because the mixture of humor and court intrigue is engrossing. It's a good book to while away an afternoon with. The romance in this book is a little weak to me, partly because you can see how it's going to fall out. Also, you'll have a good idea of how it's going to end halfway through, but it's interesting and likeable enough to finish. It's not rocket science, but it's fun, with some good historical touches, and it made me want to do more research on the historic event that the novel is based on.
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on June 5, 2013
It's hard to build a good mental picture of a character when you are embedded inside her head.That's the difficulty with first person narration. You have to rely on what the character says about themselves, and in this case, Ms Riley has not been successful in making this character either relate-able or sympathetic. Nor does she succeed in making any other character come to life. I think Ms Riley realized the first person narrator difficulties, and tries to solve her problems by inserting passages where the point of view switches to third person focused on the activities of a somewhat minor character. If this review sounds confusing, so is switching the point of view several times throughout the book.

There are other problems. Thank heavens for the cast of characters list at the beginning of the book. So many of the characters have the same honorary titles (Madame de Somebody, La This Woman and La That Woman, Marquise de Someplace) that I put a permanent bookmark at the cast list so I could keep track of who the character was talking about or talking to. I realize that many of the characters in the book are historically real (Louis the Sun King and his various mistresses, for example) but it just made my eyes cross when the main character relates a tale told to her by another person about a conversation that other person overheard or was told by yet another person.

As for the main plot, it's historically interesting to see all the jockeying for position going on in Louis' Court, and the lengths to which people would go to gain the smallest advantage. Poisons, dubious mystical potions, fortune tellers, rumors and innuendo, even human sacrifice. It's easy to see how a clever, educated, and ambitious nobody could take huge advantage of such ignorance and avarice to make herself the most sought after mystical practitioner in a community filled with other clever charlatans. But Ms Riley would have us believe that our main character is not only clever, she has a true mystical ability to see the future, and this becomes the source of her great success at Court and her way out of the fate that befalls the many so-called mystics around her.

A better drawn character would have used her wits to survive, and we would have rooted for her. As it is, I finally found I didn't care about any of the characters let alone the narrator. (I won't go into the really badly written romance sub-plot. It's hard to care for a romantic lead who's mostly described by the big hat he wears and his great overcoat.)
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on December 3, 2001
Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is a bad book. For one thing, it has a great setting: what could be more fun than 17th century Paris mixed with witchcraft and court intrigue? The main character is believable and even intelligent. And the first half of the book is riveting, with a plot that moves along in curves and twists and keeps you coming back for more.
The problems start coming in about halfway through the book. The plot, which had been hurtling along at a brisk pace, grinds to a halt. The characters start to get into a fixed routine that rapidly becomes stale, and all the suspense evaporates. In fact, Genevieve predicts the ending of the book several times throughout the story, so there's no fear of her being killed or even emotionally hurt.
Emotional scenes need work--they have all the plausibility of a B-movie performance. I got the impression that the author has an intellectual understanding of such scenes, without a true grasp of the feeling behind them. As a result, romance is a crutch rather than a highlight of this book. The same holds true for some of the characters--they are intellectual constructs of a certain character type rather than psychologically complex people.
It's also a pity that the court intrigue, so often hyped in the first half of the book, is really not as complex and vivid as it could have been. Perhaps what really irked me about this book is that with such a great setting, the plot had enormous potential, but instead just peters out. It is worth reading to get a feel for the period, and it's fun in its way. I would recommend it to fantasy fans in need of pure escapism, with Riley as a sort of fantasy counterpart to Danielle Steel. If you come to it expecting to have fun and nothing more, you probably won't be disappointed.
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