Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
The Master of All Desires
Judith Merkle Riley
Viking, 400 pages

The Master of All Desires
Judith Merkle Riley
Judith Merkle Riley grew up in the then-isolated town of Livermore, CA. She teaches in the Department of Government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, CA, and holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. She is married and has two children. She is also the author of A Vision of Light, In Pursuit of the Green Lion, The Serpent Garden and The Oracle Glass.

Judith Merkle Riley Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Serpent Garden

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Margo MacDonald

Fans of Riley's The Serpent Garden and The Oracle Glass will definitely not be disappointed in her latest mad adventure, The Master of All Desires. Once again Riley gives us a strong female heroine, whose rare talent leads her into court intrigue, the occult world, romance and other things beyond her ken.

This time the setting is Paris in the year 1556. Catherine de Medici is Queen of France and the prophet Nostradamus is at the height of his powers. Through a series of mischances, Sibille Artaud de la Roque, a young woman fresh from her convent studies, finds herself in the possession of the most powerful occult artifact known to exist -- the head of Menander the Undying -- which has the power to grant petitioners their heart's desire. Sibille's prospects of a quiet life in a loveless marriage and as a writer of poor poetry are turned upside-down as she races to answer the queen's command to bring the head to her. Meanwhile Nostradamus runs a race of his own to save Sibille from succumbing to the evil influence of the Master of All Desires and losing her soul one simple wish at a time.

The result of all this is a thoroughly enjoyable read which gallops along at breakneck speed. There is no denying that the plot is simple and almost always predictable, but it is rounded out by Riley's research into the history, prophecies and occult practices of the 16th Century. The sad dark truth underlying this playful story is touched on here and there as Riley reveals a France on the brink of religious war. (If you want to see how it all ends up within a decade of this plot, I'd recommend you watch the film La Reine Margot which shows all too graphically where the madness of the de Medici leads.)

But for now, in the safekeeping of Riley's captivating storytelling, we can laugh at the antics of Sibille's Aunt who refuses to be upstaged simply by a nasty head in a box. We can chuckle at the great prophet Nostradamus grumbling about the rigours of travel, his gout, and the unprompt payment of princes. We can sigh with the lovelorn hero who follows Sibille about from here to there just hoping for a glimpse of her not-so-petite feet and the chance to use his sword on her behalf.

It's a fun flight of fancy which keeps you turning pages right up to the end. But don't wait for the end of the world (which, as Riley does not neglect to point out, Nostradamus never actually predicted), grab a copy now and I guarantee reading it will help get you through those false-millennium blues.

Copyright © 2000 by Margo MacDonald

Margo has always been drawn toward fantasy and, at the age of 5, decided to fill her life with it by pursuing a career as a professional actress. Aside from theatre (and her husband), Margo's passion has been for books. Her interests are diverse and eclectic, but the bulk fall within the realm of speculative fiction. She tells us that her backlog has reached 200 books and she's ready to win the lottery and retire.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide