Quintessence (Quintessence, #1)
David Walton

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.

Quintessence (Quintessence, #1) book cover

To start with, it bothered me that the voice of this work wasn’t what I expected. Walton hadn’t captured the tone I relished in Arthur PhillipsAngelica, in Rick Yancey’sThe Monstrumologist , indeed in Alan K. Baker’s The Martian Ambassador or the Holmes of Horowitz The House of Silk.

And yet… And yet. I keep coming back to Eifelheim, a seminal work which gave me perspective of the unnatural in such breathtakingly appropriate language. And I’m reminded that Walton has captured, brilliantly, a form of Quantum Entanglement here, refracted with unsurpassable aplomb through a Tudor lens.

Even if the language wasn’t quite to my expectation, the scientific method is layered on a breathtakingly realistic politico-monarchistic background. Religion is the cornerstone surrounding Edward’s regency and the subsequent fallout, and the characters were expertly sculpted around it. Sinclair’s “look around you” speech; I could practically feel the ship beneath me and hear someone like Benedict Cumberbatch giving it. Parris, such a driven soul, was very easy to see through an feel with: every twist and development held import for him, and it was a pleasure to follow his exploits. Catherine was harder to click with, partly because she’s younger, but also because I found myself filtering her shenanigans through more adult, more contemporary eyes.

The other remarkable thing about this work was the profusion of scientific discovery, mired in, if that’s not too strong a term, the mores of the time. Copernicus, Galen,Hippocrates, Vesalius: Walton’s not just written a novel, he’s immersed us in the period and the knowledge, beliefs and ideologies thereof. This makes quintessence as a novel and the discovery of quintessence itself both hugely significant, the former is an astonishingly well-put-together tale, the latter a refreshing, exciting addition to the annals of the Tudor period. Recommended, without reservation.

Published by Sean Randall

I am an avid reader, technologist and disability advocate living in the middle of England with my wife, daughter and pets.

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