Review: Quintessence by David Walton

March 20, 2013 3.5 stars, Book Review 8

Pabkin’s One Liner: It’s like Magic! But is it?


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.

The description for Quintessence totally got me hook line and sinker *giggles at my joke?* I thought this was going to be a fantasy but as it turned out it was an alternate history fantasy. I haven’t read many of them because I usually prefer fiction to history. If done well though I think it can be fun to read, which I think this does well.

There were of course moments where I felt things were just a bit too much. As if Walton was trying to put so much in that the plot strength suffered because of it. One example is a character that happens to be a creature Chichirico I thought would play so much bigger of a role, I was disappointed with the dismissal his role was given. Then there is a potential battle between his tribe and another with tension that is built up throughout the book that completely goes nowhere. I didn’t feel a major connection to any of the characters except Catherine, such that it’s only been a few days and the images of them have already mostly faded from my mind. Even their names didn’t stick long with me which is unusual.

On the up side, normally I don’t enjoy books that have a lot of religious content, or religious persecution. In Quintessence it worked though because it was an alchemist, a physician and several theologians that were all discussing it without ripping each other’s faces off. You got to hear several different sides of the argument and to me it wasn’t even about religion at all but about each of those people’s quests towards knowledge and peace with themselves. Of course I found the scientific theories and discussions they had way more interesting. That is important to me because like I said – I do NOT like reading books that have a lot of religious overtones. They always end up feeling preachy to me. This content fit perfectly because during that time period that is exactly what was happening, people trying to escape religious persecution and the Inquisition.

Heck I don’t even know what to call it magic? Science? It’s magic but explained and tackled in a scientific and alchemical way. This was definitely my favorite aspect of Quintessence was the concept of it all and the experimentation and inventions. I was a bit disappointed though that there wasn’t more time spent at sea. MORE SEA MONSTERS I SAY! It appears the set up allows for another book but I think I’ll be satisfied with having just read this one.

Tabitha the Pabkins


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• This book was provided by the publisher for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. Please note that this post also contains affiliate links. To view our full Blog Policy, click here.

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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8 Responses to “Review: Quintessence by David Walton”

  1. Jan

    This sounds like a good book. I like fantasy and alternate history are good, too, if done well. Thanks for the review. I hadn’t heard of this book or author before.

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      It was an interesting one for sure – I always like reading about the medicine they had back in those times also – I found that aspect even more interesting.

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Yes exactly! more more sea creatures – that is what made me want to read it – so I needed more. There were really only two of note. *sigh*

  2. kimbacaffeinate

    I love books with alchemy and while you thought it was fantasy.. i was drawn to the fact that it was a historical alternate universe..LOL Great review!

  3. [email protected]

    I love historical fantasy, so this is definitely something I will enjoy. I have an e-copy from Netgalley. It’s a shame that you didn’t connected with any of the characters. I like the sound of the characters discussing about religion and science 😀