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What if Magellan was wrong and the world is FLAT? What if the earth really is a flat disc covered by a dome that houses the moon, stars and the sun? And those celestial objects are made of something known as “quintessence.” Quintessence is an alchemist’s dream! It allows for any of a number of transmutations to occur, and may even hold the power to bring the dead back to life. But it is also highly theoretical. Would the possible risks outweigh the potential rewards in pursuing the use of such a substance? How far would you go, and what would you risk, if you really could obtain the philosopher’s stone? These are just some of the questions explored in David Walton’s Quintessence.

Stephen Parris is a minor noble and King Edward’s personal Physic. While he is well trained in current practices, Parris feels these methods are sorely lacking, and that lives are being lost from relying too heavily on leeches, mercury and other accepted but unproven “medical” practices. He wants to know more, and his thirst for knowledge has led him to conduct secret experiments in his home. If he is ever discovered, he will certainly lose his title, his position and his fortune. He may lose his life (as could his family members). But even those severe consequences do not deter him.

Catherine Parris is Stephen’s daughter and, since the death of her brother Peter, his only child. Her mother, Joan, is intent on finding Catherine a good husband--someone with wealth and social standing to secure Catherine’s future. Catherine, on the other hand, is desperately interested in her father’s work. She is especially interested in his secret experiments (about which she is not supposed to know). She chafes at the strictures of society and wants to be able to share ideas with her father and other men about their work, their world and the discoveries being made on an almost daily basis. But her mother keeps reminding her that such pursuits are unladylike and will not aid her in the pursuit of a husband.

Christopher Sinclair is an Alchemist. He has devoted his life to the pursuit of a theoretical substance called quintessence. Sinclair is convinced not only of its existence but also of its power. All he needs is a ship so that he can sail to the edge of the earth, where the sea meets the sky, to prove his theories are correct. And to get that ship, Sinclair will do or say anything and use any power at his disposal to pursue his life’s ambition.

These three individuals will be brought together on an adventure that will take them to the edge of their world...and beyond.

In Quintessence, David Walton takes the premise that the world is flat and builds on it an entire alternate world where so many of the myths we now know as disproven are the reality. But within this alternate reality, the quest for scientific knowledge is still vital. The result is the melding/blending of a fantasy world affected by the strong influence of the scientific method and the pursuit of knowledge, creating a novel that is not entirely fantasy, not entirely speculative fiction, but instead a compelling combination of the two.

In Walton's world, even though 500 years have passed since our world’s counterpart would have existed, many of the challenges facing them (gender equality, racism, religious persecution, imperialism/colonialism) are challenging us today.

The characters are nicely drawn. They have recognizable strengths and flaws, and while there are a couple of them whose villainous purpose within the story is clear from their introduction, most of the characters seem to live in the grey area between the absolutes of good and evil, evading and trading the typical labels of hero/villain all the way to the last page.

On top of everything else, Quintessence is a rollicking adventure! There is a daring escape from London, a perilous journey across the ocean, the threat of mutiny and the exploration of an unknown land.

Quintessence is thoughtful and thought-provoking, fanciful yet grounded, and most important, a very enjoyable read.