51HCJxLytILReviewed by Caleb Shadis

What if the world really had been flat when Columbus had sailed the ocean blue? What if the Americas didn’t exist and instead the world ended in a huge waterfall that disappeared in the distance? What if there were alchemical properties and magic was real? In Quintessence, David Walton turns history on its head and plays ‘what-if’ with the pre-Columbian myths and legends about the world and the far side of the ocean.

Stephen Parris is one of King Edward’s doctors, but he has a secret. He believes in the scientific principle. His search for truth, however, can get him burned as a devil worshiper, since he dissects human bodies to learn better how they work. According to the church this is a terrible desecration.

Christopher Sinclair is an alchemist who has been in search for quintessence for most of his life. A ship arrives back in port with most of the crew dead or dying carrying fantastic tales of treasure and monsters but very little proof. Sinclair considers it proof enough and works to get the ship under his control, refitted and back on the water to duplicate the journey. He is throwing the dice and gambling on nothing less than immortality itself.

Stephen and Sinclair are locked together in a fight and flight for survival. The trip is long, dangerous and fraught with terrors never before imagined, not to mention all the trials inherent to a long sea voyage.

There were a couple of the characters in the story who were hard to really get behind, but there were several that were drawn well and really made the story. While Sinclair was the driving force behind the whole adventure, other than keeping the story moving he really wasn’t that important in my opinion.

I really enjoyed reading this book and I thought the ideas were a lot of fun to think through. The Spanish inquisitor was a little much, though honestly he was probably fairly accurately drawn. The ending felt a little mixed up with a few details kind of glossed over. But overall I recommend this book.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amature woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Tor Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.