Charles Palliser has created an amazing book in "The Quincunx", a huge novel that could have been written 150 years before. "The Quincunx" is a Victorian book, but easier to read, more cynic, more sarcastic and even somberer. It's almost impossible to go through its 1200 paperback pages without a notebook specifically set aside by the reader to write down scattered information, genealogies, twists, new characters and locations, and I would advise future readers to do just that.
The main plot (the book has dozens of inter-related plots) is about John Mellamphy, a young boy living with his mother and a couple of nurses and maids in the early 19th century in rural England. Young Master John doesn't know it yet , but his family's past history is extremely strange and complicated. When the past begins to catch up with John and his unfortunate mother, they will experience extreme poverty, desillusion, weakness. In the Victorian London, gray, crowded, violent (masterfully described by Palliser) they will descend to the lower conditions a human life can possibly bear, dragging with them many other characters as they appear in the story, and not all of them will be able to reach the surface again.
Many aspects of the book are really interesting. For example, unusual names like Phumphred, Mallyphant and Steplight help to create the necessary grimy atmosphere adequate to a victorian novel. And what is best, Palliser treats his reader in an intelligent way: he chekced and re-cheked his plots, found inconsistencies, corrected them. Palliser doesn't reveal everything in his lines. Many things he's left the reader to discover for himself, and some other things have no solution.
Is "The Quincunx" an easy read? Far from that. But those who will be able to reach its ending will be rewarded with an unforgettable story.