When I can’t decide what book to read next, I just go down the alphabet of titles I have. I was on the letter O, and don’t actually have many choices for that one. The Oracle Glass was the next up, so I chose it. I honestly do not remember how I ended up owning this book. It is set in France and not in a time period I typically care at all about. It is magical realism/gothic, which is probably how it got on my TBR list, and an excess of gift money is probably the reason it ended up in my personal library. But I am not too sorry that it did.
This was an interesting book, if not absolutely gripping. The protagonist, Genevieve Pasquier, fled from her home, which had become abusive since the death of her father, with the intent to drown herself in the River Seine. Instead, she is discovered and taken in by La Voisin, an occultist and fortune teller. Under a business contract, Genevieve learns from La Voisin how to enhance her natural ability to see visions in water, and she becomes one of the premiere fortune tellers in Paris. When Genevieve discovers that La Voisin is a lot more than a simple occultist and business-minded woman, she makes plans to escape La Voisin’s control and start a new life for herself.
The novel is based around the events of the Affair of the Poisons, which occurred during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King (grandfather of Louis XVI, husband of Marie Antoinette, for anyone interested). Many Parisian nobles were caught up in it, and many citizens were arrested and executed for treason, witchcraft, poisoning, Satanism, or abortions. The occult was a popular, though forbidden, thing at the time, and Paris was teeming with fortune tellers, tarot readers, and occultists of many kinds. Out of that came many darker elements, such as a black market for the products of conception, the bodies of stillborn babies, and poisoners.
The book seemed to be very well researched, but it was unfortunate that the factual sections were also pretty boring. I enjoy historical novels and want to know they are well researched and accurate. It is a huge peeve of mine when they are NOT accurate. However, I don’t think a well researched historical novel must also be dry. Sharon Kay Penman, Michelle Moran, CW Gortner, and Elizabeth Chadwick are all examples of superb historians writing interesting and engaging novels. Riley’s history, while clearly accurate, fell short in the area of interest, and I don’t think it is just because it was a period that I normally don’t care about. How can poisoners and abortionists be boring? Honestly.
The book was definitely fun when it was narrated by Genevieve. The fictional characters were well developed and multidimensional, even the relatively minor ones. It’s hard not to like a poet who is so shallow that he is incapable of writing decent poetry, even according to a woman who is besotted with him; a kind hearted law student who is mistaken for someone else and sent to the galleys, and is rescued by Genevieve’s charity; a dwarf who insists on dressing like a Turkish prince; or a maid who is possessed by a smartass demon. The fictional characters were definitely the strength of the book, and it is a good thing they were central to the story or it would not have been a book I could have finished. The fictional elements kept me reading and allow me to give it an honest 3 stars.