Review of Judith Merkle Riley's The Serpent Garden

Review of Judith Merkle Riley’s The Serpent Garden
by Terry Spear

The story opens with Susanna Dallet confessing it was her fate and her sins that caused her to fall into the world of the French court in 1514, all because she was trained to paint by her Flemish father, and was married to a painter, who wished to learn her father's secrets.

In the beginning, three men unearth a box containing a manuscript and a demon. One of the three men is the woman's husband. Another wants to get rid of the painter to steal the 1/3 of the manuscript that he took, believing that the manuscript as a whole will make him all powerful. So he devises a way to kill the painter---sending a letter to his mistress's husband of the adulterer’s affair. The captain kills the painter and sends the body back to his wife, but she believes he's out drinking and spending their money, and in the meantime she has painted a miniature portrait in his name on commission to earn some money. When the Frenchman comes for the painting, the man meets the priest leaving the house who informs him the painter died the night before, so the Frenchman is sure the painting can't be finished. She pretends that her husband painted the painting, and then he tries to find out who the apprentice was who truly created it...and it just gets more and more mired in lies and troubles. :) All she wanted to do was paint and pay for her household. But in that day and age, women couldn't paint.

Between the courtly intrigue in France and England, traitorous plots to install a new leader when the King of France dies, the angst Susanna faces as she tries to live her life as a painter, keep out of politics, and find happiness makes this story a wonderfully intriguing journey into the past fraught with scandal, plots, and traitors. A thoroughly enjoyable read, I have even recommended it to my students in my writing classes for an excellent example of keeping the reader hooked. For a historical journey that will keep you riveted to your seat, The Serpent Garden is a wonderful tale.


Terry Spear, Author of Heart of the Wolf
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