Fans of Antonia Fraser and Margaret George will love this witty, intelligent page-turner from Judith Merkle Riley. The year is 1556 and the setting is Paris--capital city to a country on the brink of civil war. Catherine de Medici is queen, and her astrologer, the prophet Nostradamus, has divined the secret evil of the Undying Head of Menander, the Master of All Desires. The Queen wants to use Menander to get rid of the king's mistress, and a spirited young poet named Sibille Artaud de la Roque is tempted by Menander to obtain all her desires. But only Nostradamus knows that evil befalls all who wish upon this accursed object. Can he stop these determined women before they unwittingly destroy the entire kingdom of France?
· Voted one of the Best Books of the Year by Library Journal
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Judith Merkle Riley, author of The Oracle Glass (a Book-of-the-Month Club selection) and The Serpent Garden, (both available from Penguin) is a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College. She is also the author of A Vision of Light and In Pursuit of the Green Lion. She lives in Claremont, California.From Publishers Weekly:
Again mixing history and fantasy with ?lan, the author of The Oracle Glass and The Serpent Garden offers a tightly woven, suspenseful and fiendishly funny novel. In 1556 France, Queen Catherine de Medici spies on her husband, King Henri II, and his lover, Diane de Poitiers, in a vain attempt to learn how Poitiers has ensnared her husband's heart. Driven nearly mad by jealousy, the queen, who is "very fond of do-it-yourself magic," is frustrated with her sycophantic, possibly duplicitous court astrologer's ineffective powers, until he reveals his knowledge of the magical object called the Master of All Desires. This is a centuries-old box that contains the living head of Menander the UndyingAa magus who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal life. Anyone in possession of the sharp-tongued, mean-spirited and unpleasant head may have their wishes granted, selling their own soul in the process. Through a series of clever plot twists, Menander winds up in the hands of Sibille Artaud de La Roque, a gritty girl from the provinces, who refuses to make a wish, thereby halting Menander's destructive path. Sibille and her aunt, the remarkable, independently wealthy Pauline Tournet, endeavor to rid themselves of Menander, with assistance from Nostradamus. With the queen in pursuit of Menander, and Nostradamus aiming to destroy it, the terrible head still manages to prevent Sibille from marrying her love, Nicolas. Although every character is appealing (the rotten ones serve up deliciously clever dialogue), the most sympathetic, surprisingly, is the "serpent-queen," as Nostradamus dubs her. Catherine is vulnerable and desperate; for want of love, she risks all, and gains nothing. Lush period detail and sprightly dialogue laced with humor and courtly pomp anchor Riley's romantic adventure with stylized whimsy and historical plausibility. Agent, Jean Naggar. Regional author tour; rights sold to Germany and Denmark. (Nov.)
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