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I read this somewhere in the last ten years, I think as a result of someone mentioning it on TV Tropes. The story is set in at least two eras, one in modern times and one set in medieval or Renaissance Europe. The core premise of the book is that there is a chess set that, in some way, heavily influences the world, possibly being used to usher in an apocalypse. In the modern era, an adult woman is searching for the set for some reason, with many others in the world trying to track down the pieces. In the past, we're introduced to a Roman Catholic religious official (a Cardinal, I think?) who is clearly corrupt, being introduced in a scene where he's setting up the seduction of one or two young girls under the guise of giving them instruction. I don't remember exactly how he was tied into things, but I think he may have been in possession of some of the chess pieces, which was part of what led to his current political power. I am 95% certain that the chess set was indicated to actually have power rather than just being legendary.

I think that I was reading it as an ebook, but I also have a vivid memory of having consumed the story while driving down one of the roads in town, so unless I read it at a stop light (a bad habit I learned from my mother to squeeze in a bit of extra reading time), it may have been an audiobook.

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  • If it wasn't for the Chess Set clearly being the major part of this memory I'd have gone with The Coins of Judas by Scott McBain
    – Jontia
    Mar 22, 2022 at 14:06
  • @Jontia: That looks like an interesting book, but I definitely remember it being chess pieces, with a female protagonist.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 22, 2022 at 14:09

1 Answer 1

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Might this be The Eight by Katherine Neville?

ISFDb provides the book's blurb:

New York City, 1972—A dabbler in mathematics and chess, Catherine Velis is also a computer expert for a Big Eight accounting firm. Before heading off to a new assignment in Algeria, Cat has her palm read by a fortune-teller. The woman warns Cat of danger. Then an antiques dealer approaches Cat with a mysterious offer: He has an anonymous client who is trying to collect the pieces of an ancient chess service, purported to be in Algeria. If Cat can bring the pieces back, there will be a generous reward.

The South of France, 1790—Mireille de Remy and her cousin Valentine are young novices at the fortress-like Montglane Abbey. With France aflame in revolution, the two girls burn to rebel against constricted convent life—and their means of escape is at hand. Buried deep within the abbey are pieces of the Montglane Chess Service, once owned by Charlemagne. Whoever reassembles the pieces can play a game of unlimited power. But to keep the Game a secret from those who would abuse it, the two young women must scatter the pieces throughout the world.

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  • That looks like the one. Thank you. I'm guessing that the Cardinal was actually a more minor character, since he doesn't seem to have been mentioned in the blurb.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 22, 2022 at 14:17
  • Yeah, a cardinal isn't mention on the book's Wikipedia page or in any of the reviews on Goodreads either. (I didn't include those links because they don't really add anything to the blurb, unfortunately.)
    – DavidW
    Mar 22, 2022 at 14:20
  • Is "chess service" a standard phrase? I've always heard "chess set" Mar 22, 2022 at 14:23
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez It might be idiomatic to this novel; I understand it, so it may be something I've heard in the past, but I'd never use it. The first page of a google search for "chess service" meaning finds mostly {name ending in "chess"}+{"service" in an Internet sense} except for a google books hit on the sequel.
    – DavidW
    Mar 22, 2022 at 14:54
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez - I've never heard of "chess service" before, but in British English at least, a "tea service" can be the cups, saucers, spoons, side plates and teapot that make up what is more usually called a "tea set". The same applies for "dinner service", so I suppose it's not too much of a stretch to call the pieces of a chess set collectively a "chess service". Unidiomatic as Hell as far as I'm concerned, mind you.
    – Spratty
    Mar 24, 2022 at 10:20

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