Published by Tor Books on March 19, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk
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Imagine an Age of Exploration full of alchemy, human dissection, sea monsters, betrayal, torture, religious controversy, and magic. In Europe, the magic is thin, but at the edge of the world, where the stars reach down close to the Earth, wonders abound. This drives the bravest explorers to the alluring Western Ocean. Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares only about one thing: quintessence, a substance he believes will grant magical powers and immortality. And he has a ship.
I read this book in a day because I just couldn’t stand the thought of putting it down for more than a few moments at a time. My friends and family could attest to the fact that I sat there at dinner with my kobo in hand, reading and ignoring everyone around me. My silence punctuated by rambling on about this book because it was that good.
Some books you can judge by their cover. I know you’re always told you shouldn’t, but the cover is an essential part of the book that gives you a quick idea of either the characters involved or the genre of the book. In this case, an assumption based on the cover is that this book is a fantasy, or has pirates and a sea-faring adventure. And you would be partly right, but this book is so much more than all of that.
Quintessence is a story about Parris, Sinclair, and Catherine. Parris is a physic to the king who performs shady autopsies to understand the human better during a time when that could be perceived as witchcraft and the dark arts, Catherine is his daughter, a young woman who wants to learn and be taken as seriously as any man, and Sinclair is an alchemist who is fascinated with discovering the fifth element: quintessence. The story itself starts in London, continues on a ship, and winds up on a small island at the edge of the world where strange and wondrous things happen.
I’ll admit that I spent part of this book flailing at the so-called science (what do you mean the Earth is flat?!) and so-called medicine (I know what caused scurvy! Pick me!) but in a few cases my ideas of where I was right and they were wrong were false because this is an alternate history to our own, and the world is not the same one that we live in. And once I accepted that I spent less time railing at it, and more time loving the book. And I did love it. I’ve already started shoving the sample chapters from David Walton’s webpage at people in an attempt to get them interested, because this is a fantastic book that can appeal to fans of fantasy and science fiction, as well as people who adore alternate histories and sea voyages that are ripe with monsters.
The writing in this book is engaging, and there wasn’t a single moment where I was left waiting for something else to happen because I had gotten bored. It’s honestly hard to believe that this is only David Walton’s second novel because he writes like he’s been doing it for a very long time. This is definitely an author to watch.