The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

I’m beginning to notice that I’m doing Historical Novel reviews. HAHA! Who doesn’t love history? I love it especially when intertwined with an author’s vivid imagination.

With this one, let us visit Le Roi-Soleil’s (King Louis XIV) court.

oracle glass

Couldn’t find my book so I looked up a photo online that has the same book cover as mine.

Again, I got this book at my go-to second hand bookstore. I was there yesterday and bought a book written in French but that is neither here nor there. I wasn’t exactly drawn to the cover. I was, in fact, drawn to the title. Aside from loving history, I do have an interest in divination (Harry Potter much?). Like every other book, before I purchased this one I had to read the pitch.

Spinning actual police records from the reign of Louis XIV into a darkly captivating story, it follows the fortunes of Genevieve Pasquier, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been transformed into an imperious, seemingly infallible fortune-teller… Genevieve is a skinny, precocious little monkey with a mind full of philosophy and the power to read the swirling waters of an oracle glass – for a demimonde who will believe anything. Left for dead by her family, Genevieve is taken in by La Voisin, an ingenious occultist and omnipotent society fortune-teller. La Voisin also rules a secret society of witches – abortionists and poisoners – who manipulate the lives of the rich and scandalous all the way up to the throne. Tutored by La Voison, Genevieve creates a new identity for herself – as the mysterious Madame de Morville, complete with an antique black dress, a powdered face, a cane, and a wickedly sarcastic streak who is supposedly nearly one hundred fifty years old. Even the reigning mistress of the Sun King himself consults Madame de Morville on what the future holds for her. And as Madame de Morville, Genevieve can revel in what women are usually denied power, an independent income, and the opportunity to speak her mind. Beneath her intelligence and wit, what drives Genevieve is a private revenge – but what she doesn’t expect is for love to come in the bargain. (source)

I was intrigued by the story due to the pitch alone. Imagine that, ACTUAL police records.

The story follows Genevieve, an intellectual (very unusual for a woman to posses such philosophical knowledge during the Renaissance) and a cripple, whose talent has captured the attention of a famous fortune-teller, La Voisin. It is told in the first person POV.

Plot Summary

Genevieve was considered a nuisance within her family because of her disability–one leg is shorter than the other. One day, while accompanying her mother and sister to La Voisin’s place, she saw images inside a bowl filled with water. Ridiculed by her relatives, she brushed the images aside but La Voisin took notice of this.

Genevieve, being abused by her relatives, decided to end her life by jumping over a bridge to the frozen waters below but La Voisin, who happened to “pass by” in her carriage, managed to take her in her care. From that moment on, La Voisin taught and trained Genevieve how to use her talent in water divination. She made a profit of her protégé’s ability. The old Genevieve is supposedly dead, La Voisin told her, drowned in the river, forgotten. La Voisin developed Genevieve’s character: Madame de Morville, a supposedly ancient woman whose appearance is young due to a freak alchemical accident a century back.

However, as Genevieve grew more mature, she had fallen in love with a man whose satirical philosophies about the crown intrigued her. Aside from this, she wanted to break free from La Voisin’s web.

As Madame de Morville’s fame has grown wide and had managed to catch the attention of one of the King’s mistresses, the Madame de Montespan. She was invited to court to tell the lady’s fortune.

In the end, Genevieve managed to escape La Voisin’s grasp and she fled along with her lover across the sea.


Well, this isn’t the best summary I made but I hope the effort shines through. HAHA!

The cult Affaire des Poisons or affair of poisons was an infamous murder scandal in France that occurred between the years1677-1682 wherein Catherine Monvoisin (aka La Voisin) was one of the chief personages. Yes, she is real people.

During this time, a number of prominent members of the aristocracy was tried and convicted for poisoning and witchcraft. The scandal reached the inner circle of the King and 36 people were condemned, one of whom was one of his mistresses Madame de Montespan.

The origin of the case began in 1675 after the trial of Madame de Brinvilliers, who was accused of having conspired with her lover, army captain Godin de Sainte-Croix, to poison her father Antonine Dreux d’Aubray in 1666 and two of her brothers, Antoine d’Aubray and François d’Aubray, in 1670, in order to inherit their estates. There were also rumors that she had poisoned poor people during her visits in hospitals. After being accused she fled, but was arrested in Liège. Brinvilliers was tortured and confessed, was sentenced to death, and on 17 July was tortured with the water cure (forced to drink sixteen pints of water), beheaded, and her body burned at the stake. Her alleged accomplice Sainte-Croix did not face charges because he had died of natural causes in 1672. The sensational trial drew attention to a number of other mysterious deaths, starting a number of rumours. Prominent people, including Louis XIV, became alarmed that they might be poisoned.(source)

As Genevieve, I felt a sense of freedom as I became Madame de Morville. However, Genevieve’s transformation into the role hurt a bit. She was told to wear a corset even as she sleeps, this hurt her back to the point she needed opium to dull the pain. The corset had steel rods as opposed to whale bone cartilage as boning to give it structure and to correct her posture since she has a “twisted” back. She was also made to wear shoes with heels, one shoe had a heel higher than the other one to compensate the shortness of one leg. This ached as well.

Being invited to court was a wonderful chance and a dreadful experience by far. For one thing, anything you say or do in court may be used against you so you have to move and talk wisely if you are ever to survive the king’s court.

Personal Rating

4/5 points. I felt hanging in the end. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending.

Perfect Pairing

The classic Cafe au Lait with a hint of vanilla

cafe au lait

Good Reads:

Up Next: Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue



12 thoughts on “The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley

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