The Serpent Garden: 9

Judith Merkle Riley, Author
Judith Merkle Riley, Author Viking Books $24.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-670-86661-8
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-14-025880-6
Paperback - 449 pages - 978-0-307-39536-8
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-283-99745-4
Open Ebook - 978-0-307-41011-5
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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. (Mar.)
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