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The Serpent Garden

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,120 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
In the court of Henry VIII, there are many secrets—and some people will kill to keep them hidden.Susanna Dallet is the daughter of a Flemish painter and wife to a philandering husband, living in the court of Henry VIII. When her husband is murdered, Susanna is suddenly left with a household to provide for and nothing to her name. Her days of anonymity are over when Susanna ...more
Paperback, 452 pages
Published January 15th 2008 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 1996)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,233)
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Another long tale of a woman (another young widow of a detestable, quite evil and completely neglectful husband)who makes her own way forward during the late Middle Ages. This one leaves England for the continent and plies her trade of producing exquisite painted miniatures. Most for the wealthy and noble classes. She's innovative and quite bright and begins by selling them with the understanding they were the work of her late husband.

Enjoyable read with all categories of information and context
Kate Quinn
May 18, 2010 Kate Quinn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For all the books out there about the Tudors, there isn't much about this epoch: Henry VIII's sister Mary's brief marriage to the King of France. Judith Merkle Riley picks this as a backdrop for the story of Susannah, daughter and widow of painters, and consummate artist herself. Her skill at painting portrait miniatures leads her to a post with the scheming Cardinal Wolsey, who sends her overseas to the French court with Princess Mary. Susannah unwittingly becomes the target of a band of religi ...more
May 03, 2014 Emma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a tremendous find. I can't believe I'd never even heard of Judith Merkle Riley until two days ago--her books fit right into my favourite niche, historical drama rich in detail and earthiness but absolutely winging with fantasy and cosmic in narrative scale. I was a little skeptical at first of how she weighted the story between the historical story and the theological drama playing out in the background, mostly because I enjoyed the details of Susanna's artistry and journey so much and want ...more

There is a good book in The Serpent Garden! It's just... much shorter than the Serpent Garden actually is. In this book, Susanna Dallet is a miniaturist in the early reign of Henry VIII. A miniature she does of the king's sister Mary catches the eye of Cardinal Wolsey, and she ends up in his service. After several delightful chapters of doing everyday painter's work, Susanna accompanies Princess Mary when she goes to France to marry the king for reas
Jul 13, 2011 S.A. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This poor book has been sitting on the shelf for years. I decided to change its fate.

The words charming don't usually come to mind when I read a book, but there was something charming, strange and giddy about this story detailing the trials and tribulations of a clever, talented 16th century widow who turns to miniature portrait painting to make her way in life after her despicable painter husband is murdered.

The writing style demands attention. At times the third-person narrative breaks in mid
MB (What she read)
Dec 16, 2010 MB (What she read) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Artists, Art-Historians, Readers who like Historical Fiction w/a sense of humor
Loved it! Especially enjoyed the details about painting miniatures, the artist POV, and the absolutely delightful characters! I found Hadriel and Belphagor, rival angels, absolutely delicious--they reminded me of Good Omens.

Evidently, from other reviews, JMR is satirizing Dan Brown's Angels & Demons in this, but I haven't read that book (and don't plan to) so can't speak to that. I imagine I missed some of Riley's humor due to that lack, but found this book to be lovely and humorously light-
Feb 05, 2010 Ashley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really REALLY want to give this 3.5 stars, mostly because I have been in a reading fever the last few days not wanting to put this book down. However, there were too many things about the book that annoyed me to really give it the 4, especially considering how I've been rating GGK and such lately. I absolutely LOVE historical romance, and the setting of this was fascinating--painters, courtiers, and priests in and on the fringes of Henry VIII-era Tudor England and France. I liked the main char ...more
Jan 04, 2010 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Left penniless after the murder of her lecherous, spendthrift husband, Susanna Dallet is forced to rely on her natural wit and artistic talent to provide for her household. Like her biblical namesake, Susannah is beautiful, virtuous, and slandered. Most of the men around her believe she has a secret lover who is the real painter because it is obvious that no woman could be so talented. Those who do recognize her ability, such as the sinister Cardinal-to-be Wolsey, regard her as a freak but do no ...more
Dec 23, 2015 H rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Susannah Dallet is the daughter of a Flemish miniaturist, a young orphan married to an English portraitist who married her only for the secrets of her father's art. This book opens with Susannah widowed and left destitute when her husband falls afoul of an ugly plot among would-be demon masters looking for the secret of power. Before you can think, Susannah is adopted by an angel who stumbles on her art, has to find a way to fend for herself, becomes part of Cardinal Wolsey's household, and the ...more
I did not do myself any favors waiting so long to review The Serpent Garden, because now what I remember is that this book alternates between being pretty interesting and completely off-the-wall crazy.

Let's start with the good, for which I'll just refer to the Goodreads summary: "The book opens in Tudor England, where Henry VIII and his Machiavellian counselor Cardinal Wolsey are scheming to put an English heir on the French throne. They are arranging to marry Henry's pretty, frivolous younger
Apr 12, 2009 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It is rare that a book is so terrible that I can't even finish reading it. Well... welcome to that book! Argh!
A really great book shows us how everything is great and worth to die for
Aug 08, 2015 Diana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was given to me by an artist friend with the promise that I would enjoy it. I did.
The main character is a young woman, Susanna Dallet who is recently widowed and must fend for herself in sixteenth century England. Luckily, her father who was an artist, trained her in his craft. Now, women were not considered worthy to pursue the arts, so Susanna initially pretends that she is selling her deceased husband's work.

Eventually, she finds a sponsor of high ranking, Wolsley who is an advisor
Jess (The Best Kind of Book Nerd) Willard
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Suanne Laqueur
May 01, 2016 Suanne Laqueur rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved it. It had a little bit of everything: history, mystery, artistry, suspense, romance, court intruige and a tinge of the occult. The only thing I didn’t like was that it was so closely and intriguingly woven in with the myths, mysteries and histories of the Knights Templar. If you happen to be a Templar-phile, you’ll love it. If you haven’t a clue who they were or what they were about, the book is still enjoyable but you might be a little lost. I fall into the latter category. I knew they ...more
Oct 26, 2008 Trina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Heather Cummins
My three-star rating belies how much I actually enjoyed this book. It is, however, supposedly a juvenile book and yet if I look at it this way it is appalling. There is a great deal of sexual innuendo as well as sexual details which would be preclude me from ever recommending this to any teenager. Considered as an adult novel, it probably would be considered tame since she refrained from going into excessive detail. Beyond this though, it is a great story with a fantastic heroine. I really loved ...more
Having finished reading this book today (at 10:30 am), nicely in time for my Third Tuesday Book Club meeting at Barnes & Noble tonight, I am now prepared to do my review of this book for my weblog. It promises to be an interesting discussion; it’s not every day you find a historical romance that also contains real live Angels and Demons within it. According to Wikipedia (caveat lector), the author teaches in the Department of Government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. ...more
Jan 17, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fun historical novel is about Susanna Dallet, a woman trained by her father in the art of painting. When her wastrel of a husband is murdered, she takes up painting professionally to support herself, specializing in the art of miniature portraits. Her talent brings her to the attention of Cardinal Wolsey, and thus she becomes part of the Tudor court and ends up accompanying Princess Mary to France upon her marriage to Louis XII. Due to some of her husband's activities and her unwitting poss ...more
Alexa Grace
In the court of Henry VIII, there are many secrets—and some people will kill to keep them hidden.

Susanna Dallet is the daughter of a Flemish painter and wife to a philandering husband, living in the court of Henry VIII. When her husband is murdered, Susanna is suddenly left with a household to provide for and nothing to her name. Her days of anonymity are over when Susanna finds that guild rules preventing women from working do not apply at the king’s court, and she manages to secure a position
Dec 08, 2008 Joyce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys historical fiction
I gave this book three stars in relation to A Vision of Light, which I thought was a much better organized book with sharper dialogue, but there were definitely 4 star flashes in The Serpent Garden. The history was interesting and enjoyable, though much of it did not seem absolutely essential to the plot. The scenes with the angels and cherubs were thoroughly engaging (4 star material) and the demon subplot was often more riveting than the more extensive main plot felt to me. (Again, 4 star mate ...more
I found this book enjoyable and interesting for several reasons. One is that it covers Henry VIII's sister Mary's marriage to the King of France and what she does to ensure her next husband is more to her liking. It also includes a bit involving the bloodline of Jesus. And it's just a well-written historical fiction.Suzanne is forced by her husband's death to begin painting in order to survive. She becomes part of Mary Tudor's court as Mary head to France to wed the king. Suzanne is a observer t ...more
Nov 09, 2011 Gaile rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 16th-century, fantasy
I enjoyed The Oracle Glass so much I decided to read another book by the same author. After finishing it, I am somewhat at a loss as this one is not even three fourths as good as the first. Taking place at the time of Henry VIII's youngest sister, Mary marrying the old King Of France, the heroine is a newly made widow trying to make a living by painting. That is something women did not do at the time but as Susanna has even more skill at it than her deceased husband, she is able to pass off the ...more
Aug 08, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really charming, enjoyable read. Funny and feminist with a fantastic romantic pairing. Loved Susanna who is smart and talented and resourceful. Loved Ashton who can be a dope. All the female characters from Nan to Duchess Marguerite are the shit and I stan for them. My only issues are that I dislike the alternation between Susanna's POV and third person. I don't know a way out of it but it just seemed sloppy. And I don't really get the bad guys. How did it wrap up with the Helmsman in the end? ...more
An absolute pleasure to read. Dr. Riley completely immerses the reader into the medieval world with not only her attention to details such as sleeve length, but also the visceral belief in angels and demons. Her characters are vivid and funny and completely human in the ways they act and things that they say. I was completely captivated by this book and was very sad when it ended.

I think I made it to page 100 or so... Possibly in another phase of life (when my one-year-old is older?) I could finish this and I think even enjoy it, but the fun was overshadowed by the oddity of it (which isn't always a bad thing of course, but in this case was just too much for me) and the admittedly vivid writing and characterization just managed to make me a tiny bit uncomfortable - something about the almost primitive setting of the beginning chapters and the rawness and bawdiness of th
Diana Sandberg
Well. Another of the read-alouds (with my daughers, 13 & 16). I rather reluctantly enjoyed the previous work of Riley's that we read a couple of years ago - The Oracle Glass. This one has many of the same qualities, both good and bad, but has a leaven of humour that improves it further. A good writer. I particularly liked the fact that, throughout the book, both The Bad Guys and The Good Guys frequently leapt to erroneous conclusions on the basis of what bits of information they had, and set ...more
Jan 23, 2014 Mikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book at least as much as the author's Margaret of Ashbury books. The technique of painting miniatures, the sights and sounds of the time, and the political intrigues were all interesting. The touch of supernatural was enjoyable, and the author shows off her droll sense of humor well. A fun read!
Sep 10, 2015 Judith rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A demon disguised as a fashionable Italian man and an Angel that owns a antique store may be a little out there for me; however it did provide a few good chuckles. A novel worth reading in you like fantastical, historical fiction.
Lesley J
May 03, 2014 Lesley J rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book. The characters, the story - it all comes together and is delightful. I have read it often when I just want to read a good story.
Katherine Spivey
Feb 06, 2016 Katherine Spivey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like the way she weaves in art. And she does supernatural characters better than anyone else. They're funny! They tell jokes!
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Judith Astria Merkle was born on January 14, 1942 in Brunswick, Maine and grew up in Livermore, California, U.S.A. Her great-grandfather was a Swiss emigrant, who moved to the United States in 1860. Her uncle-abue was the famous player of baseball Fred Merkle. Her father, Theodore Charles Merkle was contralador of the Project Pluto and her brother Ralph C. Merkle is technological professor in a Co ...more
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“Há qualquer coisa de libertador associada à perda de tudo. Primeiro chora-se, depois fica-se atordoado; em seguida enumera-se aquilo que se perdeu e reflecte-se sobre a dureza do futuro, pensando que nunca conseguiremos obter outras coisas como aquelas que desapareceram. Finalmente, depois de tudo isso, sente-se uma estranha leveza. Sem as coisas que sempre tivemos, passamos a ser outra pessoa, qualquer pessoa, ninguém. É uma sensação esquisita, como a de estarmos embriagados, abandonando-nos à embriaguez. (..) De repente senti-me capaz de qualquer coisa, por muito arrojada que fosse.” 4 likes
“How funny we are, I thought, the way we dance about each other, each afraid of being hurt by the other.” 3 likes
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