Uncover the hidden world of alchemy in WWII-era novel


Female spy infiltrates a French brothel in epic story of war, alchemy, and love

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina –No magic is more powerful than the spell of love. And no enchantment can be more dangerous.

In Sarah C. Patten’s WWII-era novel, “The Measure of Gold” (Ashland Press, March 2, 2021), it is the fall of 1940 and Germany has just invaded France. Across the ocean, in Sweetwater, Tennessee, Penelope receives an urgent letter from her childhood friend, Naomie, urging her to Paris. Bereft from the loss of her widowed father, Penelope leaves her life and reunites with her lost friend. There, she meets Naomie’s brother, the brilliant, mad alchemist Fulcanelli and his mysterious apprentice Lucien.

As Penelope falls headlong into the esoteric world of alchemy and espionage, she is assigned to spy on the clients of a powerful French brothel. She listens, learns, and dances to seduce one of the most infamous murderers of World War II in a desperate calculation to save Lucien. Through the devastating magic of life, Penelope learns that alchemy has far more to do with the person than the element.

An epic story of betrayal and courage, “The Measure of Gold” showcases the heroine’s journey during wartime, and serves as a powerful reminder of what’s needed for us to transform from stone to pure gold.

“The Measure of Gold”
Sarah C. Patten | March 2, 2021 | Ashland Press | Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Paperback | ISBN: 978-1-7358082-0-8 | $14.99
eBook | ISBN: 978-1-7358082-1-5 | $9.99

“compelling… a powerful tribute to the brave women of the French Resistance”
– BlueInk Review

“poetic… a touching World War II novel that features both fantasies and cruel sacrifices”
– Foreword Clarion Reviews

About The Author

SARAH C. PATTEN: Sarah was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and attended Cornell University where she earned her BA in English. She completed her MALS in Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.

She lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband and three kids. To learn more about Sarah’s life and work, please visit www.sarahcpatten.com.


In an interview, Sarah C. Patten can discuss:

  • Where the inspiration for “The Measure of Gold” came from
  • Which true historical accounts of female spies influenced this story
  • How she adapted the hero’s journey into a story of female resistance
  • How she conducted research for the novel, including reading books on alchemy, authored by famed alchemist Fulcanelli
  • Whether readers can expect to see more from Penelope in the future
  • What’s next for her on her literary journey

An Interview with Sarah C. Patten

1. Where did the inspiration for “The Measure of Gold” come from?

About ten years ago, I became interested in female spy stories from WWII. After all, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and these stories were incredible, filled with bravery, love, betrayal, revenge. But what I loved most about these women were how unexpected and heroic their lives were. They were couriers, farm girls from Iowa, Polish orphans, etc.. They all found their way into the Resistance through the most unexpected and unlikely paths. So about five years ago, I decided to write my own female spy story called The Measure of Gold. Imagine a woman from Eastern Tennessee who is raised by a French scientist/alchemist who becomes a spy in the French brothels and helps bring down one of the most infamous murderers of the war.

2. When writing Penelope’s character, were you influenced by true historical accounts of women in the resistance? If so, which accounts were most influential?

I love to read biographies, so the seeds for this novel started with historical accounts of women who had anonymously sacrificed their lives to fight against the Nazis. Though women represented 15-20% of the French Resistance fighters within the country, after the war, their stories quickly faded, overshadowed by the achievements of their male counterparts. Of the 1,036 members of the Resistance who were honored by Charles de Gaulle in the Order of Liberation, only six were women. Some of the women who inspired this novel were Virginia Hall (one of the wings of the Pentagon is named after her for her heroism and bravery in WWII), Krystyna Skarbek (aka Christine Granville), Josephine Baker, Noor Inayat Khan, Odette Sansom, just to name a few.

3. You researched alchemy for the writing of this novel, including reading books written by famed alchemist, Fulcanelli. What drew you to alchemy as a subject and what did you learn?

In writing this novel, I learned so much about so many unexpected things. Notre Dame plays a prominent role in my novel, so, in truth, my study of the Gothic architecture of Notre Dame led me to Fulcanelli and alchemy. In 1926, Fulcanelli wrote a book called “Le Mystère des Cathédrales” about the math and symbology found within the Gothic cathedrals of Europe. His belief was that the secrets of the universe were hiding within plain sight. Then, he vanished mysteriously. Some people question whether he ever existed at all. Fulcanelli’s story, like alchemy, carried all of the elements of mystery, magic, and suspense I wanted to cultivate within the book. The stories from WWII are endless because the war was so vast and horrible. The war was so many things at once. My journey from Notre Dame to alchemy, also led me to Isaac Newton. For scientists WWII was known as the “physicists’ war” because of the massive scientific race that was happening based upon Einstein and his contemporaries. In the novel, alchemy acts as a profound bridge between science and imagination, just as Notre Dame is a bridge between art and the divine.

4. Many war stories focus on men’s contributions. Was it difficult to pen a story with a heroine at the center? What do you hope readers will glean from Penelope’s story?

As a writer I am always interested in how a person behaves when no one is watching. During WWII, many of the able-bodied French men were held in the prisoner-of-war camps or sent to work in the German factories, so, in reality, Occupied France was in large part made up of women, children, and the elderly struggling to survive. At that time in society, women were largely overlooked. They could not even cast a vote in France until 1944. Yet, the heroines of WWII recognized that being underestimated and inconspicuous was a tactical advantage for them during the Occupation. It felt very natural for me to write a truly heroic story about a woman who uses that invisibility as her superpower. My heroine, Penelope (the same name as the wife of Odysseus), maneuvers and accomplishes her acts of greatness in the shadows. For me that is a raw and authentic type of heroism.

5. Can readers expect to see more from Penelope in the future?

I think Penelope’s story ends with WWII, however, the original manuscript was so vast that it broke into three parts. I am currently finishing my next two novels, born of that original manuscript, The Great Medicine Show, and Surcy Shoals.