The story is set in 1899 and takes place in England, France, Germany and Belgium.
In late Victorian England there was a great interest in magic and the occult, with such groups as the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This story deals with members of the Golden Dawn and also with the notorious Illuminati; a centuries-old mysterious organization bent on creating a new world order – and destroying the old one to do so (recently brought to the fore again in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons).
The Illuminati is plotting to assassinate Queen Victoria. Some of its members are also associated with the Golden Dawn and make use of that organization – in particular its leader, Samuel MacGegor Mathers - to bring about successful completion of its plans. The Illuminati plot is based on the 1605 Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot, where there was an attempt to blow up the House of Lords at the time of the State Opening of Parliament.
In order to finance the scheme, the Illuminati decide to track down and open the long lost tomb of Nicholas Flamel, the fourteenth century alchemist, in hopes of obtaining Flamel’s working notes on his very successful experiments transforming base metal into gold. Mathers is sent off on that quest.
Much against their will, Alec Chambers and Sarah Wilde are both drawn into Scotland Yard’s involvement. They are instrumental in the decoding of the ciphers and in the actual discovery of the Flamel tomb. After deciphering a variety of cryptic engravings and illustrations, the tomb is finally discovered in a subterranean church in western France.
Scotland Yard is aware that there will be an attempt on the Queen’s life but has no details. The trail leads to anarchists in Germany, the alchemical gold being used to purchase gunpowder from them. Unfortunately, the gold later proves unstable and reverts to lead.
Alec Chambers’s interpretation of certain alchemical prints displayed by an Illuminati leader discloses the main points of the plot and, as time grows short, Scotland Yard is able to start checking the cellars of the Houses of Parliament. However, they discover nothing.On the day, the Queen’s procession leaves Buckingham Palace for the Palace of Westminster without any explosives having been found. As Her Majesty’s coach approaches Parliament, on a very tight timetable, it is obvious that it must be delayed. . . . . .