The Alchemist: A Novel by Donna BoydThe Alchemist: A Novel by Donna Boyd

The Alchemist: A Novel

byDonna Boyd

Paperback | July 1, 2003

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In a sweeping epic of dazzling magic, soaring suspense, and dark longing, three immortal souls are united by fate and a fearless ambition that will change the course of history–even as it destroys their own way of life. . . .

On an upper floor of a plush, high-security building on Central Park West, an elegant man sits in the office of Dr. Anne Kramer, confessing to the heinous murder that has horrified the modern world. Randolf Sontime is renowned for his personal charm, and Dr. Kramer is fighting to keep from falling victim to it. For the first time in her life, she truly understands the meaning of the word “charisma.” Not knowing that her own destiny is irrevocably tied to his, Anne Kramer listens to the story of Sontime’s life.

“It began with the magic, you see. And so, perforce, must I.” As a boy named Han at the House of Ra, an isolated oasis in the Egyptian desert of a far ancient time, Sontime lived in privilege. There the chosen were trained in the science of alchemy–magic, philosophy, miracles. Only two other initiates were as skilled as he: Akan, quiet and studious, a boy whose thirst for knowledge was matched only by his hunger for truth; and Nefar, beautiful and brilliant, a girl as filled with wonder and unfathomable ambition as Han himself. Together they discovered that in union, theirs was a power unmatched in the physical world.

But even in the House of Ra, there were boundaries to be observed, knowledge that only the masters understood and feared. As the threesome’s thirst for answers–and for each other–deepened, they were tempted by the dark arts that they had sworn to avoid. “Look at three magnificent youths who stand astride your world and scoff at the rules you must obey. . . . Look at us, and call us gods.” Their power was palpable, their desire total–until the fateful moment when their alliance was forever damned, their gifts horribly corrupted.

A seductive work that seethes with mystery and passion, The Alchemist hurtles readers back through time to an era when magic was sacred and the workings of the world lay in the hands of a few gifted, but tortured souls. In a stunning feat of unbridled imagination, Donna Boyd has created her most hypnotic novel to date.
Donna Boyd lives in a restored turn-of-the-century barn in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she is now working on her next novel.
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Title:The Alchemist: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:240 pages, 8.2 × 5.5 × 0.6 inShipping dimensions:8.2 × 5.5 × 0.6 inPublished:July 1, 2003Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:034546236X

ISBN - 13:9780345462367

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Imagine if you will the days spinning backward: a millennium ends here, acentury turns there, a year ends now, and another, and a thousand others,and finally there are so many days, so many years ending and beginningthat you can no longer remember why it seemed important that you keep count of them at all. And yet I havecounted them. I have counted every one, marking the beginning of each newyear, of each new century, in my own quiet fashion: a glass of wine,perhaps, a silent toast. The world revolves, the view changes. Now I standatop a castle turret, now upon the deck of a sailing ship. Here I gazeupon an ageless river, there a body-strewn battlefield; now I see thedancing lights of the Champs d’Elysée, now I see the smoldering fires of afallen civilization. The years change, but the question does not. Willthis be it? I ask myself. Will this be the year I tell my story, the wholeof it, from beginning to end, at last?And what a lovely entertainment it has been, all these thousands ofturning years, to imagine the telling, the circumstances of the telling,and the reason for the telling. I have created the scenario and variationsupon scenario over and over again in my mind. Where to begin? How best toglorify or debase myself in the telling, how to find the thread of truththat, in the end, must be the summation of any man’s life–even if thatlife has been as long and as tangled as mine. So now the time has come,and the moment is–as so many greatly anticipated momentsare–disappointing. For I realized some time ago that the whole storycannot be told, not today, perhaps not ever. Every man’s life is simply asum of parts, and these are the only parts I can tell you now.But the beginning, where was that? I think sometimes it began with a litheyoung girl of grand ambition and laughing eyes. At other times I am sureit all started with the wistful longings of a poet-priest I once calledfriend. Was it a woman’s power, or a man’s dreams? What dark god fashionedthis unlikely tale and sent it spinning into space with a single smilingbreath? And dare I think I ever, at any time, had any control over it atall?It began with the magic, you see. And so, perforce, must I.I had a name in that long-ago time, but I have forgotten it centuriessince, so let me call myself as I was in those days: Han. Perhaps I had amother, a father, and an early family life but I do not recall thoseeither. Life began for me, as I remember it, in the House of Ra.Much has been written in human history about this time in Egypt; entirelifetimes have been dedicated to piecing together the scattered bones ofthat long-ago life. As always, when what is shattered is reassembled withno model to follow, mistakes will be made in the reconstruction, greatchunks, perhaps, will be missing and others will seem to have no place inthe whole at all. The result is, more often than not, a monstrousgrotesquerie.So believe me when I tell you that, while historians have done a fair jobof reassembling the past, so much of what they have learned is only whatwe wanted them to know, what was left for them to know. And nothing, Iassure you, of what you know or what you think you know of that time caneven begin to touch the truth of the House of Ra.Truth is an interesting word. I cannot tell you now with absolutecertainty whether the structure itself, the temple complex in which welived and worked and ate and slept and studied was in fact composed ofmortar and stone, or whether it was merely an illusion of the same–or,most likely, a combination of both. I will describe it therefore as Iperceived it to be, remembering that in the end, in almost every instance,the difference between truth and illusion is so faint as to be almostinconsequential.The House of Ra existed on a man-made oasis far from the banks of theNile, in a part of the Egyptian desert that is today a particularly brutaland barren stretch of land in a place that is known for its inhospitablenature. Soaring sandstone cliffs surrounded the oasis which, from the sky,would be seen as an island of green in a sea of sand. Date and fig treesgrew side by side with banana, papaya, and orange trees. Waterfallstumbled from limestone boulders, formed deep pools and meandering streams.The ground was covered with a lush low carpet of a fragrant creeping herbthat smelled like sweet lavender and felt like moss to the touch. Evenafter all these years, I can but think of the House of Ra and thatfragrance will return to me. There is nothing like it growing in the worldtoday.The temple complex was enormous–larger, I think, than any of us imagined,for it seemed the more we discovered, the more there was to discover.There was a set of carved cypress doors at the entry to the temple, easilytwo stories high, which were closed only on ceremonial occasions. The doorwas inscribed with pictographs in the ancient language centered around thesymbol of our craft–three interlocked globes in perfect balance thatformed the points of a triangle. When the doors were open, the trianglewas broken, leaving two globes joined and the one alone. Only when thedoors were closed was the triangle complete.The complex itself was laid out like a triangle, with long straightcorridors containing classrooms, laboratories and sleeping areas, andlarge circular common rooms at each apex of the triangle. The whole wasprotected by a raised roof, so that indoor gardens and pools thrived inthe artificial tropical rain-forest atmosphere that had been created by the designers. There were many levels, some labyrinthine, some socompact they were practically claustrophobic, each with its own internalenvironment–cool in the heat of the sun and warm when the cold winds blewacross the desert.Artificial light glowed from the walls and ceilings so that we might workor study at night, and could be discontinued when we wished it.Refrigeration was available, but rarely used, as our supply of fresh foodswas abundant. Our clothing was manufactured so quickly and inexpensivelythat there was no need for laundering, and our food was cooked with amethod that used no fuel and gave off no heat. We bathed in warm-waterpools and used an internal, automated waste-disposal system. We had, inthis ancient, long-forgotten desert temple, every modern convenience.The House of Ra was a secret over two thousand years old even when I wasthere. Within those vaulted marble halls and sun-drenched galleries, magicmet science, philosophy met truth, wonders and miracles were merely amatter of course. Years later a library would be built in Alexandria thatwould become known as the greatest in the world; it was only a shallowreplica of the library contained in the vaults of the House of Ra. Therewere never more than thirteen initiates at a time; the best and thebrightest of all of Egypt, hand-chosen by the Masters to live at thetemple and study the truths.And what truths were those? Ah, you could spend a lifetime and still notlist them all. The nature of atomic particles and the nature of man, thecomposition of chemical alloys and the mysteries of the soul. Thetransmutation of matter, the source of all Power. To live in truth, and topractice deception. Magic. Medicine. Discipline. Mastery. Good and evil.Balance in all things.We were chosen at a young age, male and female, for characteristics noteven our parents could identify, and from that time until we gainedadulthood we knew no life outside the House of Ra. It was, to the best ofmy recollection, a very ordinary life: we played, we studied, we ate andslept; we had childish spats with our classmates, we were impertinent toour teachers. We had moments of great joy and deep pain, of triumph andfailure and enlightenment and humiliation. We grew, we learned, we loved.We formed loyal friendships and casual sexual liaisons. There was nothingspecial about us, at least in our own view. We lived in the same universethat you do today; we simply learned to operate that universe according toa different set of rules.Yet I don’t mean to minimize the grandeur of our time there; the majestyof what we were becoming. Even now I have but to close my eyes and it willreturn to me with breathless, aching wonder, the first time I understoodthe workings of this world and the power I had over it. Let me speak thewords, with proper tone and rhythm, choosing the syllables and the harmonythey produce, let me hold the thought and say the spell, and what once wasis no longer so. Watch me now as I pluck from the air the electricity thatsparks from my fingers, for don’t you know it was always there? And nowwith an outstretched arm I will lift that stone with the strength of myintent, and see how it floats like a feather in the air! Let me touch yourhand and rewrite your memory. Let me bind you with my eyes, let me whisperyour name and capture your will. We were dealers in magic, and magic ruledthe world.I have said we, but it is important to know that not all who studied atthe House of Ra were of equal ability. Some would never do more thanmaster the principles of physics and chemistry that would enable them tocontrol the environment in which we must live; others might dip theirfingers into the stream of the human unconscious and come away with abasic understanding of the arcane laws that govern existence here onearth. The study of the Art was intensely personal, and we competedagainst no one but ourselves.But there were three of us who, from the beginning, excelled above theothers at the Practice. We couldn’t help noticing. And we couldn’t stop,no matter how we disciplined our minds, the thread of ambition fromsnaking into our days. It was inevitable, I suppose, that that ambitionshould bring us into conflict. But even we would not have sought conflictwithin the mastery of one of the most dangerous and complex of all themystic arts–nor could we have guessed how deeply, in the end, it wouldbind us together.It is quite one thing to perform the mysteries on inanimate objects, tocause boulders to melt into lava, to dry up a stream with the force ofone’s breath, for it is well-known that all things exist in all forms atall times; it’s merely a matter of learned skills to shift them from onestate into another. But to transform oneself–that is the thing that willtempt and terrify every Practitioner, in one form or another, for as longas he lives. Many an adept, quite competent in all other areas, will neverachieve the state of simple Oneness that is necessary to become anotherliving being. But for the three of us, in that long-ago time in the Houseof Ra, the gift came easily. Perhaps too easily.There has been much debate over the millennia as to whether thistransformation was a literal, physical transmutation of matter, or anequally literal, but far less demonstrable, transfiguration of spirit. DidI become the frog, or did I merely cast my consciousness into the essenceof frog-ness, and did I do it with such power and conviction as to causeothers to see me as I saw myself–in the form of a frog? I tell you now itis one and the same. All magic is illusion, and all reality is only whatone perceives it to be, and in the world in which we lived the linebetween these two planes of existence was so faint as to be almostinvisible.So if it will help your modern, Western-scientific mind to accept moreeasily the occurrences I describe, believe if you will that it was merelya function of the occult mind. That we imagined, and caused others toimagine, those things that seem impossible for you to believe. I’ll notargue the point. Imagination can stop a heart, you know, or break a bone,or alter the face of time, and in the end it is all the same to thosewhose lives are affected.Still, I should not wish you to think that it was a casual thing, thisshedding of one form to become another, or that it might be summoned atrandom will. Quite the contrary. Most of us will never master anythingmore than simple animal forms–the frog, the fish, the bird or snake. Ah,but to attain transmutation to any form was a wonder almost too exquisiteto bear; so intensely involving was it, so deeply, singularly pleasurable,that there was a real danger in giving oneself over to it so completelythat one lost all desire to change back, and soon forgot how. Our historyis rich with tales of such unfortunate occurrences: the prince trapped inthe form of a frog, the lovers transformed into swans, the virgin whochanged herself into a tree–and neglected to change back. Oh, believe me,I know the temptation. I know the pain of choice.

Editorial Reviews

"Many rich touches, such as a clock whose pendulum swings with 'the heartbeat of eternity, ' that Boyd's fans now expect."