(This is the best cover art I could find. My copy is missing (sob) or I’d do a shot of that)
The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley is one of my very favorite books, and one I’ve read dozens of times. Set in England during the time of Henry V111 The Serpent Garden is fantastic marriage of history, romance and the paranormal.
Susanna Dallet is the wife of Roland. When not spending his time with his mistress or drinking, Roland is an esteemed painter. Little do his associates know that it is actually his wife who does much of his work. She mixes his colors, makes his brushes and even puts the finishing touches on his paintings. When Roland is murdered because of a diabolical plot it is up to Susanna to pay off his debts and provide for herself. She takes up the art of painting, having been trained by her father, and passes the work off as her husband’s.
When she is found out, Susanna is offered an esteemed position in a bishop’s household as paintrix among the rich and spoiled. Robert Ashton, the bishop’s servant, is caught in the middle of his master’s schemes and Susanna, who he cannot stop thinking about but who he also comes to loath because of rumors that she had her husband murdered. Susanna, unaware of the lies, finds Robert obnoxious and distasteful to begin with. She travels to France with the entourage of Princess Mary, who will wed the aging king of France. Susanna also unknowingly brings with her a secret that will put her in the middle of danger. It is up to not only Susanna, but a few roguish angels to get her out of it.
The Serpent Garden is an interesting mix of art and the supernatural. I found the angels charming, especially Hadriel. I adored Susanna. She seemed so real, so realistic for a heroine of a historical novel. She was feisty but good and she was very, very smart, which was quite fun to read. I wanted to laugh with her when she fooled so many men and also defend her when those same men thought she was “just a woman”. I thought Susanna was terrific as well as Nan, a sometimes cheeky woman and Susanna’s old nurse. Also intriguing were the weavings of the Priory of Sion, a secret society with ties to the Knights Templar, bent on keeping a secret, which they fear has been discovered. For any reader with a love of history, royalty, art or danger, The Serpent Garden is a perfect read. 5 stars.
Originally posted with Writers News Weekly in 2009.