Quintessence by David Walton – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Bane of Kings writes a review for Quintessence, a fast paced alternate history novel published by Tor Books, and written by David Walton.

“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 plot sounded intriguing as well, but ultimately - this was a flawed book, and I had a few key issues with it preventing it from becoming brilliant. Whilst it’s very entertaining, and engaging, it’s also full of many cliches and lacks the potential that it had going into this book.

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. 

First off, let’s look at where this book went right. The world building is fun and the plot is exciting. The Narrative is strong and the prose is well written and captivating, with some great imagination thrown in here to keep you reading. It’s an alternate history book as is evident from the blurb above, and takes place at the reign of Boy King Edward VI of England. It also really comes together to present an entertaining climax, and the philosophical ideas are also mixed together with religion, allowing for a world where neither overreaches the other. The world is flat, rather than round – allowing for an interesting look at what could have been, with magic getting stronger and stronger the further away you head towards the edge of the world.

QuintessenceIf you’re looking for a book filled with magical creatures, superb ideas, then this may be the book for you. However, you’ll want to see what I have to say next, for there are a few noticeable flaws in this book that help it from reaching its potential. Because despite the fact that there may be more flaws than good points in this book, I still found it entertaining and enjoyable.

The first thing that this book fell short with was its cliched characters. The Spaniard Inquisitor is your typical, no-nonsense, evil villain complete with an English turncoat who is basically a “yes-man”, people who will always follow their leaders. Most characters don’t have much depth as well, Maasha Kaatra being guilty of this in partiuclar, Sinclair’s wife, who has a background straight out of a Hollywood movie. And not a very good one either. However, the characters are a bit of a mixed bag - Christopher Sinclair is a strong character and easily the most memorable and engaging one, the alchemy adding to the entertaining factor of the book because it’s not often we get to read about a main character who is an alchemist. He’s not so much a hero-type either, and not very rotatable. However, his parts are still the most interesting to read about in the book, that and the opening section, which will grab you in as it brilliantly introduces the characters, the setting, and the concept.

The book itself contains many things, and a few key elements that feature in this book are the part political thriller, part alternate-history drama, part seaborne adventure, but there are far more thrown in there as well, too many for me to mention here. It’s jam-packed full of creative ideas and if you can overlook the flaws, then you may find this book very entertaining indeed.


Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.


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