Book Discussion Guide: Shadow of the Alchemist

It is recommended that you read the first five Crispin Guest novels in order. Though each book stands on its own, the plots of previous books have a lot to do with the growth of the characters as the series progresses. Some questions below might be difficult to answer if your group has not read the previous volumes.


Perenelle, the wife of infamous alchemist Nicholas Flamel, has been kidnapped and the culprit wants his most prized creation, the Philosopher’s Stone. Flamel’s assistant is murdered and ancient symbols turn up on walls and carved on stones throughout London. Crispin must decipher them in a strange treasure hunt to find the man responsible. What follows is a chase down the shadowy streets of London, between men who know the secrets of poisons and purges, sorcery and forbidden sciences. With the help of Flamel’s deaf mute servant Avelyn and the indomitable Jack Tucker, Crispin races against time to save Perenelle from disaster, and the Philosopher’s Stone from falling into the wrong hands.

Cast of Characters

Crispin Guest, the Tracker*
Jack Tucker, his apprentice*
Nicholas Flamel, a French alchemist
Avelyn, his servant*
Perenelle Flamel, the alchemist’s wife
Bartholomew of Oxford, an alchemist*
Cosmas Blusard, an alchemist*
Thomas Cornhill, Flamel’s apprentice*
Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby, the duke of Lancaster’s son and cousin to King Richard II
Father Edmund, the priest of St. Aelred’s church*
Brother Eric, a monk at Westminster Abbey*
Damian Fallowell, an alchemist*
Hugh Fastolf, sheriff of London
Piers Malmeyns, an alchemist*
Brother Thomas Merke, a monk of Westminster Abbey
Tom Merton, serjeant for the sheriffs*
Peter, an alchemist*
Robert De Vere, earl of Oxford
Robert Pickthorn, a lay preacher*
Brother John Sandon, a monk of Westminster Abbey
Wendell Smythe, serjeant for the sheriffs*
William Venour, sheriff of London
Hugh Waterton, chamberlain to the earl of Derby
Abbot William Colchester, abbot of Westminster Abbey

*denotes fictional people


1. London again shows itself as a character in the story. Did you get a better sense of London with this story?

2. The Crispin books have had a locked-room mystery in VEIL OF LIES, a thriller in SERPENT IN THE THORNS, a serial killer tale in THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, and a “manor house” mystery of sorts in TROUBLED BONES. Discuss the “treasure hunt” aspect of this book.

3. What characters were most intriguing in the book?

4. What demons was Crispin dealing with in this story?

5. Discuss the metaphysical and psychological aspects of the Philosopher’s Stone.

6. How does alchemy seem to reconcile with church teachings?

7. Is Avelyn as Flamel implies?

8. Do you trust Henry?

9. How do the politics of the time period spill into the plotline?

10. With the conclusion of this story, where does Crispin go from here?