Beautiful, self-reliant Catherine Velis, a computer expert and shrewd executive, is punished for having too much professional integrity by being posted to her firm’s Algerian branch office. This assignment to the middle of nowhere gives her an unexpected opportunity: Mysterious strangers offer her a lavish reward if she can find a gold chess set thought to be hidden in North Africa. (Her knowledge of higher mathematics is essential to the task.) She does not learn until she has gotten deeply involved in the perilous quest that the chess set, known as the Montglane Chess Service, possesses numerous properties that have enabled previous owners, such as the Emperor Charlemagne, to obtain supernatural military and political power. If the pieces and board fall into the wrong hands, the consequences could be disastrous.
The author of this combination thriller-historical novel has chosen an unusual format, reflecting the mysterious nature of the chess set itself. The story is constantly shifting back in time to the period just following the French Revolution, where another young woman (who might be an ancestor of Catherine Velis or Catherine herself in a previous incarnation) is also involved in intrigue over the Montglane Chess Service. Because of the anarchy and terrorism following the revolution, the Montglane nuns of France must disperse the chess set to new hiding places to keep it from falling into villainous hands. No less a personage than Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias, is intent on obtaining possession of the complete set to further her designs of conquest. Mireille de Remy, a beautiful and spirited young nun, is sent out into the world with pieces of the set. She loses her virginity but gains a broad worldly education before her own mission is completed.
The author, like her modern-day protagonist, is a computer expert and has held responsible positions in the international business community. Her knowledge in these areas as well as her thorough reading of history give her novel more substance than is usually encountered in this type of escapist fiction.