One of the questions I’m frequently asked is which of the characters in The Riddle of Prague are based on real people. The answer is: many of them!
I wanted to write a book set in Prague. I loved the legends about the alchemists who lived during the reign of Rudolf II. Those were glory days when Prague was the epicenter of philosophy and astronomy. The alchemists ruled the court because most of the learned men and women of science were obsessed with finding the secret to eternal life. They believed that key to immortality existed and that one of them would find it.
The colorful characters from this time period begged to be a part of the story. The ones who made it into the book are (in no particular order):
1. Elizabeth Weston
In The Riddle of Prague, Hana finds a notebook written by Elizabeth Weston (known as Westonia), an acclaimed poet from the early 1600s. Westonia describes the events surrounding the Grand Experiment, a series of procedures that led to certain of the characters becoming immortal, in a sense.
The real Elizabeth Weston lived in Prague for most of her life and she was, indeed, an acclaimed poet. I’ve written a separate blog about the difficulties she had as a woman trying to break into the literati of her day. Elizabeth was the actual stepdaughter of notorious alchemist Edward Kelley.
2. Edward Kelley
In The Riddle of Prague, Hana discovers a riddle written by Edward Kelley that leads to a buried flask that’s supposed to contain the elixir of immortality. Hana goes on a quest to find Kelley’s flask.
The real Edward Kelley is said to have always carried two flasks on his person. He claimed that the flasks contained the elixir of immortality. As in the book, Emperor Rudolf II twice imprisoned Kelley who, they say, died trying to escape from his dungeon cell.
Kelley claimed he could speak with angels. People paid him to tell them what the angels wanted of them. Kelley and his wife, Jane (sometimes noted as Joan) Weston traveled for a while with the eminent alchemist and philosopher, John Dee and his wife Jane Dee. Kelley told Dee that the angels commanded them to sleep with each other’s wife. As John Dee explained to his wife, they were ordered to “cross-match.”
Clearly, Kelley had a very persuasive way with words.
3. Don Julius
In The Riddle of Prague, Don Julius is the evil villain, the bastard son of Emperor Rudolf II who goes through the transformation procedures of the Grand Experiment. In the modern day story, Don Julius, or Julian as he’s called, wants to find Kelley’s hidden flask so he can duplicate the substance and create the world’s most sought after pharmaceutical.
In real life, Don Julius was the emperor’s bastard son, and a ruthless thug who ruled a town in Bohemia known then at Krumlov. He is most known for brutally dismembering and eventually killing the woman that he forced to be his lover, Marketa Pichlerova.
4. Marketa Pichlerova
In The Riddle of Prague, Marketa is Don Julius’ unfortunate lover who’s forced to undergo the transformation procedures of the Grand Experiment.
In real life, unfortunate Marketa died at Don Julius’ hands despite her repeated attempts to escape from him.
5. Sofia Brahe
In The Riddle of Prague, Sofia Brahe is one of the two masterminds behind the Grand Experiment of Immortality. She hires a number of Roma (Gypsy) children from a place called Ragusa to work with her. Many of them end up dying during the experiment.
In real life Sofia Brahe is best known as the sister of Tycho Brahe, the famous astronomer. She studied chemistry and astronomy and wrote histories of Danish nobility. She and the real life Elizabeth Weston were, apparently, on friendly terms.
6. Michal Sendovogious
In The Riddle of Prague, Michal is the other mastermind, along with Sofia Brahe, of the Grand Experiment of Immortality. He’s described in the book as being a favorite at the Emperor’s court.
In real life, Sendogovious was an alchemist who, for a time, was the Emperor’s favorite when he brought back a mysterious tincture that was supposed to have magical abilities. He was also renown for having escaped from a number of prison towers.
There are other minor real life characters mentioned in The Riddle of Prague. Among these, the one to watch is Liuva who is mentioned as one of Sofia Brahe’s maids who takes part in the Grand Experiment. In real life, Liuva (or Live) Larsdatter worked with Sofia and is said to have lived for over 120 years.
Which is harder to believe? The truth or fiction?
by Laura DeBruce
When 18-year-old Hana Silna travels to Prague to reclaim her family’s home, she discovers a riddle that may lead to a long-last flask.
The contents of that flask could change the fate of the world. When a ruthless enemy kidnaps her family Hana has to find the flask to rescue them. On her quest she meets a mysterious man with a penchant for poetry, a Gypsy girl with a haunting past, and Alex, an all-American boy who’s trying to save his sister from a crippling disease. It’s hard to trust anyone when the stakes are this high — especially when surrounded by experts in deception.
There’s only one flask, and Hana desperately needs to find it.
Read an excerpt:
The American girl arrives in Prague today. Finally! Finally things will happen. Everything will change.
I possess secrets—old and valuable secrets. Never mind, for now, who I am or what my name is. Those things have never mattered much. I am history’s silent witness and its victim. And I confess, here in the dark, that I am also a perpetrator of crimes. Ruthless, bloody crimes.
Straw into gold, water into wine, blood into life! I have long witnessed Prague’s obsession with alchemy. Now it is my turn! I shall become like quicksilver. I shall transform secrets into power and power into money.
The American girl arrives today, and soon terrible things will happen. At the end of it all, I will be free.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Laura DeBruce is a documentary filmmaker and writer. She grew up traveling all over the world thanks to her father’s work with the U.S. Embassy. She and her husband spent twelve years living in Europe including Prague, Paris, Amsterdam and London where she found inspiration to write The Quicksilver Legacy Series. In Prague she worked as a lawyer for the first private nationwide television station in the former Communist bloc. It was there that she fell in love with the ancient city of Prague and its legends.
She lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband and son and an unruly Golden Retriever.
Website with blog and trailer: http://theriddleofprague.com/
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