top of page


Second Story Press, 2019

Mariuccia Umbellino is a young woman living in the remote mountain village of Montemonaco, Italy, in the early years of the 19th century. Nearby, the secret recesses of the Grotto of the Fates – home to an ancient oracle of Apollo – are about to be invaded and destroyed on orders from the Pope. But the men sent to do the dirty work don’t know who (or what) they’re dealing with. This oracle and this girl won’t be messed with. In the dark of night, Mariuccia and her mother set out to rescue their revered oracle. In the adventure that ensues, things are blown up, love spells are miscast and then recast, revenge is taken, and the mysterious fate of a jetttadore – a person born with the Evil Eye –is finally revealed.

oracle cover.jpg


“I had been under the apparently false impression that oracles are always dignified and confined to a single sacred space, but the oracle in Melissa Hardy’s new novel is sly, meddlesome and peripatetic. She gets around in the company of a scruffy, independent-minded young girl, the narrator of this hilarious, anachronistic, romance/comedy of errors.”

Stan Dragland, author of Strangers & Others, the Great Eastern

“The 99-year-old female narrator of The Oracle of Cumae spins a wickedly engaging and hilarious yarn as she unloads her secrets. The story crackles with snappy dialogue, sorcery, romantic and evil spells, a mummy, oracles, jettatores, explosions, disembodied limbs, and boozy parties set in Italian olive groves. This reader didn’t want this party of a novel to end!  Melissa Hardy practices her own kind of wizardry as her entertaining troupe of unusual characters navigates through humorous and imaginative terrains. One of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time—maybe ever.”

Catharine Leggett, author of The Way to Go Home and In Progress

“Melissa Hardy’s irreverent and funny novel The Oracle of Cumae is a layered tale wherein the present collides with the distant past. Coming to the end of her life, Mariuccia calls for a priest—but not because she wants to confess her sins. She has a secret to tell. She’s carried it all her life; it is older than humanity.

Mariuccia comes from a family that for generations has been the guardians of the cave of Lady Sibylla, one of the god Apollo’s oracles. It is not easy to be the protectors of Lady Sibylla. The oracle is irreverent, nosy, mischievous, and she talks too much, all of which makes her incredibly funny at her work. Underscored by the fact that old people literally shrink in the novel, Lady Sibylla is the engine of the absurd humor that permeates the story.

As Mariuccia tells the priest about her life, her relationship to Lady Sibylla serves as the framework. Within it, new characters appear, telling their stories in their own words, leading to a reading experience similar to that of unpacking a Russian doll, disassembling and reassembling it to reveal new surprises within each layer.

Several threads run throughout, with the conniving Lady Sibylla at their center. A man who can’t help but give people the evil eye and a lovesick bachelor whose life is turned upside down because of botched love potions are the main threads. The comedy of errors that results from the bachelor’s toyed-with feelings runs out of steam, and the oracle’s final attempt to get things right is quirky as a result. The man with the evil eye, however, showcases the book’s absurdism fully.

As it meanders toward its climax, The Oracle of Cumae is entertaining and full of surprises. It’s a novel that relishes in poking fun at itself and its characters.”

Erika Harlitz Kern, Foreword Magazine

The author would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council
during the writing of The Oracle of Cumae.

bottom of page