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(Quintessence #1)

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  657 ratings  ·  138 reviews
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 abo ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 19th 2013 by Tor Books
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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 ·  657 ratings  ·  138 reviews

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Dan Schwent
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2013
In a world where the Earth is flat and alchemy works, Alchemist Chistopher Sinclair and physician Stephen Parris leave their uncertain futures in England and flee to Horizon, a colony on the edge of the world. But even as they unravel the island's many wonders, can they truly escape the religious upheavals in England?

The Quintessance is part alternate history and part what I'm now calling alternate science. It takes place during the Age of Exploration, only in this world, the Earth is flat and t
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
It's been a long time since a novel frustrated me as much as Quintessence. Here is a book built around a great concept, with some really interesting philosophical questions attached. It's a story that's just packed with potential, but one where I found the execution to be lacking. Make no mistake, David Walton clearly knows how to tell a story, just as he clearly knows how to construct an argument, but it felt as if he spent too much time trying to decide which would be his focus.

Let's talk stru
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Quintessence is an oddly engaging novel which kept me turning the pages despite being in a way standard action-sff with ultimate cliched villains (inquisition Spaniard who burns heretics at breakfast, lunch and dinner and English treacherous helper who licks the Spaniard boots and informs left and right for advancement), compressed-time action (main character spends his life seeking stuff, only to find it in a jiff so to speak...), hair-rising dangers which you know the heroes will overcome etc ...more
Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who cares about only one thing: discovering the quintessence, the mystical fifth element that may be able to transmute base metals into gold and even bring the dead back to life. Stephen Parris, a physic in the court of England’s sickly Edward VI, strives in his own controversial way to extend life by practicing the forbidden art of human dissection to further his medical knowledge. Neither man is willing to accept the strictures imposed on their research by ...more
The original review can be found here:

“A thrilling but flawed ride through an alternate Age of Exploration.” ~The Founding Fields

I’ll admit it, the cover was the main reason why I requested a review copy of this novel off NetGalley. It just looks awesome doesn’t it? This was a book screaming must-buy, complete with ships and sea monsters, I thought I would be in for a really enjoyable novel, even if I hadn’t read anything by David Walton before. The p
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Quintessence has so much going on in it that it could easily have turned into a hot mess. Thankfully, it did not. Set in the 16th century, a time of budding science, alchemy, enlightenment, superstition, as well as political and religious upheaval, Quintessence manages to blend these elements with it's own alchemy into pure gold. The two main characters, Parris, (a physician and scientist), and Sinclair, (a wiley magician and alchemist), form an unlikely team of opposites on a quest to discover ...more
Jun 13, 2013 rated it liked it
I'll be honest, the amazing cover was pretty much why I picked this book up to begin with. The premise was the next to intrigue me and I was (mostly) not disappointed. Walton does an amazing job of world-building, creating a flat Earth and adjusting historical events accordingly. Copernicus proves the Earth is flat, not the center of a solar system. Columbus' voyage ends in disaster and the ships never return from the ends of the Earth. In the midst of this setting, science is struggling to deve ...more
Mar 03, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a fun adventure story that reminded me a lot of Haggard's King Solomon's Mines or Doyle's The Lost World. Set at the end of Edward VI's short reign, the story starts off a bit slow as the characters begin exploring the magical properties of both the bodies and the items of a doomed expedition to a magical island, while also juggling the politics of the period. It easily pulled me in with all the detail work, and it didn't take long before the characters were off on their expedition.

Matt Ranlett
Mar 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Excellent read with great pacing throughout most of the book. I loved how the beginning starts out with the world we know, tiny details slowly twisting that understanding into a new shape. By the end of the book everything is open for questions as to what is and isn't reality. This was an excellent alternative history vision of the Reformation and Age of Exploration.
I especially appreciated the layering of religion and philosophy - what is the true nature of the world and what is the role of th
Ian Hu
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The beginning of David Walton's Quintessence is stirring enough: a ship full of dying men whose hull carries magical treasures sails into London and starts an adventure for Stephen Parris, the King's Physician.

The plot never lets the reader down for a second afterwards, whisking us from the rigid society of Protestant London, onto a ship sailing across unknown water, then on an island that is perched at the edge of the world. All of this is done in a fantasy-like adventure style, with new creatu
Nov 02, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014, e-books
3 Stars

This is a high seas adventure that is filled with more ups and downs then from just the sea. Quintessence is a novel that seems to want to be for the young adult crowd, but a heavy dose of violence and a heavy load of deep subject conversations. The book is an easy read but suffers greatly from inconsistencies.

I enjoyed the traveling over the sea. There were cool creatures and adventures. The whole plot point behind the quintessence was phenomenal. I really felt the characters were the we
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a perfect example of what I like to call the "what if" story. It's a kind of story that takes a single question — one that might not even seem that momentous when it crosses your mind — and spins it out to into an entire existence, following it through down every possible thread. Being set in the 1600s, this doesn't quite fit into the steampunk genre, but its very much in the same spirit. In this case, the what if is a kind of scientific counterfactual that is the complete opposite of al ...more
First, the horribly truncated summary: An alchemist and a mortician place their trust in a beetle and take a boat full of Protestants to the end of the world.

For once, I’m not being glib!

This book was provided to me via Netgalley in return for an honest review. I would like to thank Tor/Forge for giving me this opportunity and taking me seriously.

Now, as a fan of fantasy, Tor is a recognizable staple in our household. I hold them in very high acclaim and reverence. With that in mind, I am fully
Jessica Strider
Feb 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Pros: great world-building, entertaining

Cons: surprisingly swift resolution to numerous problems

The Western Star returns to England from the edge of the world purportedly carrying treasures untold, but the hold is full of barrels of dirt, rocks, and seawater, and the crew has mysteriously died. Stephen Parris, physic to the ailing King Edward VI, attempts to increase his knowledge of the human body by dissecting corpses, an act that would mean his execution if discovered. The most recent body h
H. P.
Mar 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: modern-sf
Quintessence is an excellent example of the power of speculative fiction to explore human nature and history. Walton takes a specific point in history—the Age of Exploration and religious strife in England—and introduces fantastical elements to it to cast illumination in a particular direction. The England of Walton’s world looks a lot like the England of the mid-1500s. But there is a very, very different New World.

Quintessence opens with a crew of men returned from the New World. They’ve brough
Jun 17, 2013 rated it liked it
A ship limps back into port -- London, sixteenth century. It's been to the edge of the world! It's seen fabulous Aristotelian foreign climes! It's found gold and spices and... wait a minute, these chests are full of sand and rocks. Also the sailors are all dying. Their bodies are full of sand and rocks too.

I feel like the author was primarily interested in his alchemical physics; the quintessence, how it works, how it interacts with everything. The rest of the plot was added so that he could kee
This was a nice surprise. It's fast-paced, smart, and creative.

It's a twist on historical fiction: It's the time of King Edward and Bloody Mary, when Catholics and Protestants are at war with each other. Only Christopher Columbus's expedition vanished and never was heard from again. The earth is flat, disproving the Greek myths of it being round.

Christopher Sinclair, an eccentric alchemist obsessed with conquering death, blackmails physician Stephen Parris into joining him on an expedition to th
Mike Shultz
Mar 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Quintessence pulls you in immediately. I loved the mystery of the prologue, with a group of sailors returning to England with treasure chests full of sand and rocks. This sense of wonder is the central draw of the book as it takes us to Horizon, an island at the edge of a literally flat world where magic abounds. This is not your typical fantasy magic that just inexplicably exists; it follows its own elaborate and consistent rules, with which the characters experiment and discover as the story p ...more
Jul 26, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish
Alternate histories and ship based exploration stories really aren't my thing, but leave no book untried. There's a ship full of mysteries and the unexplainable that came back from an island full of wonders. Beetles that can travel through solid objects and defy the laws of nature! Our characters will discuss how these things can't possibly be real and throw around words like black magic and witchcraft until they inevitably must set out on a voyage and discover the origin of such wonders! I bet ...more
PopcornReads - MkNoah
In Quintessence, award-winning author David Walton blends science fiction and fantasy in a manner that would make Jules Verne proud. When I saw the book cover for Quintessence, it looked like just the kind of adventure I was in the mood for and, when I read the concept from Tor Publishing, I was sold. Are you in the mood for alternate history on a flat Earth with mysterious occurrences, alchemy, strange creatures and courageous explorers? Read the rest of my review at ...more
May 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wonderfully detailed world-building, set in an alternate reality universe at the time of the succession of Mary Tudor. The structure of quintessence, an alchemical life force, and its behaviour close to the edge of the (flat) world, is carefully constructed and set in a lavishly described landscape. The ideas are unique and clever, but unfortunately Mr Walton does not yet have the maturity or talent to write truly exceptionally - he misses the sheer emotional heft and visceral impact of similar ...more
A Turtles Nest Book Reviews
Jul 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Loved it! I couldn't put it down and there was never a dull moment. Perfect book for escaping our daily lives for a while. I gave it 4 stars because I would have loved more exploring and discovering and less fighting by greedy men. ...more
Ria Bridges
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Normally historical fantasy isn’t really my thing, but after reading Quintessence, I’m starting to think that it should be. Set initially in 16th century London, a time of religious and political turmoil, the book primarily follows the story of Dr. Parris, his daughter Catherine, and an alchemist with ambition named Sinclair. After a failed voyage to magical lands, something has followed the now-dead sailors back, throwing Parris and Catherine in with Sinclair as the family is exhiled and Sincla ...more
D.L. Morrese
Sep 24, 2017 rated it liked it
In a fantasy version of 16th century Earth, Mary I has just assumed the throne of England (making it 1553). Protestants, or at least those who benefited from their support of Mary's younger half-brother (the former king, Edward VI), are justifiably worried that her efforts to turn England back to traditional Catholicism will cause them some difficulty (i.e. involuntary visits to the cells of the Inquisition). With this as a backdrop, the chief physic (doctor) to King Edward finds himself in dire ...more
Crystal (Goddess in the Stacks)
WOW where do I start with this one?! Quintessence is a fantastical tale, set in an alternate Victorian Age England. In this reality, the world really IS flat, and the sun and stars are a half dome over the earth, meaning they're much closer to the earth at the edges of the world. Our main characters are Dr. Parris and his daughter Catherine, part of an expedition to an island on the edge of the world, populated by fantastical creatures, where lines of magical "quintessence" power strange abiliti ...more
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Originally posted at

Quintessence takes places in an alternate version of Europe back in the Age of Exploration. The start of the book was really solid for me and actually the book can be divided into three parts. The first part takes place in England (an alternate version) where you meet up with two of the main characters: Stephen Parris and Christopher Sinclair. Stephen Parris works as a physic for the king but has an odd hobby in disse
Russ Jarvis
Jul 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm catching up my reviews and it's been a while since I read this book. I remember starting out intrigued, but then the story flattened out midway and lost speed for me. I finished it and have no major complaints, but I think it is more suited for a younger reader who is starting to explore speculative fiction in otherworldly settings. I will recommend it to my grandson when he enters double-digits. Hopefully it will wet his appetite for a life of searching for what lies beyond his horizons. ...more
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
I really wanted to like the book, and maybe if I had read a print version of it I would have. But I found the plot to be tackling too much, and some of the narration of the Audible version to be overdone. The concept was interesting and the alternate universe created by Walton should be applauded. But again, too much was going on, and too much real world knowledge and argument was being re-examined. The presence of a strong female character was appealing, but the novel also suffered by having to ...more
Dane Roberts
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Incredibly imaginative and well-thought out. It's set in a 16th century world where all the archaic laws of science are actually true, so the world is flat, alchemy is possible and all the other things that were once thought to be true.
Walton put a lot of work into making a world that's very similar to ours, but with everything slightly more fantastical. It's also engagingly written, with subtly beautiful descriptions. Recommend you read it.
Isabel Willems
This book was amazing. It's been so long since I binge read a book but this one was certainly binge-able!

I loved the magic system and worldbuilding, as well as how real historical facts were tied into the fantasy aspects.

The only criticism I have is the use of the worn-out trope of, "the pure virgin girl connects with the strange magical beast." However, it didn't irritate me enough to put me off the book whatsoever.
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David loves to read science fiction and lives near Philadelphia with his wife and eight children. His latest book, THREE LAWS LETHAL, is about self-driving cars and the AIs that drive them.

"Three Laws Lethal gives the reader exciting insights into the threats and the promises that are coming our way."
—Vernor Vinge

"Walton has brought hard sci-fi roaring back to life."
—The Wall Street Journal


Other books in the series

Quintessence (2 books)
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“Someday you'll understand. You'll have your own children, and they'll mean more to you than the world. A wife has to defend her children, even against her own husband. Not that I expect you to be easily cowed. But sometimes, despite all you say and do, your husband won't be dissuaded from folly. When that happens, as a mother you have to close ranks. Your first responsibility is to your children. To salvage what you can. Even if they hate you for it.” 3 likes
“We were treating light like it was just another thing quintessence could produce. But that’s not right. Light is quintessence in its purest form.” “Like the stars?” “Exactly. A void is a conduit to nothing, the absence of matter or energy. A star, or a Shekinah flatworm, is a conduit to another place, to the source of life and energy.” 0 likes
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