Within a 20-minute walk from Notre Dame Cathedral is the house of Nicolas Flamel, a wealthy fifteenth-century bookseller and alchemist. Both Flamel and Maria Hebrea, my model for Miriam bat Issac, sought to create the philosopher’s stone, a necessary substance for transmuting lead into gold and brewing an elixir to extend and rejuvenate life. In short, their goal was the same, to improve the material world.

Neither Maria Hebrea, Nicolas Flamel, nor anyone else managed to create a philosopher’s stone. But far from being a pseudoscience practiced only by charlatans and cheats, contemporary historians of science recognize the importance of alchemy in laying the groundwork for the science of chemistry.

In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Miriam explains why she became interested in alchemy:

Once I learned that the soul resides in the body, I knew that the soul of a metal must reside somewhere in its body too, for didn’t Aristotle tell us that all things are composed of the same vital substance? I realized that as long as an imperfect human body can be perfected by the addition of some extract of this vital substance, then an imperfect metal body can be perfected the same way. So instead of studying the healing of humans, I could study the healing of metals. Then I’d know how to perfect them into silver or gold.