This is the second of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books that I have listened to, and they just keep getting better. They have the feel of Umberto Eco's work, but without trying to overwhelm the reader. Stephenson presents a realistic view of the world in 17th century Europe. Its accordingly dark, bleak, and savage, but also very beautiful. Also, do not expect a happy ending-instead, look forward to a real one. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.
I once thought that Mr. Stephenson was to wordy and technical I with his writing. That was after listening to Reamde the first time (I've enjoyed it twice more since). The Baroque Cycle ties into Cryptonomicon, proving a backstory to a semi-historical novel. Now I just can't get enough! Off to listen to Book 3 now...
Increasing my ops tempo by allowing storytellers to whisper in my ear(buds).
This series must be contemplated as a unified whole. This review is for the entire BAROQUE CYCLE.
Sorry Neal, I was wrong. For me Neal Stephenson was a bit of an acquired taste. My first Stephenson exposure was with SNOWCRASH, a zany over-the-top Sci-Fi farce with quirky characters, tight plotting and fascinating ideas—try an ancient software virus in the human brain. My next Neal Stephenson encounter was THE DIAMOND AGE and this was for years my last. It was not until revisiting SNOWCRASH now as an audiobook (narrated by the superb Jonathan Davis) that I realized that anyone able to reach such dizzying fictional heights once deserves more than one strike. It was after this that I listened to ANATHEM; strike two. But there was one more title that had received acclaim that I first had to tackle before relegating Stephenson to one-hit-wonder status: CRYPTONOMICON. This was a home run; different from SNOWCRASH in almost every way but still wonderful, and really long. From this I learned three things: (1) Stephenson was not easy to pigeon-hole; and (2) He could handle fictional works in the long form; and (3) If you are not preoccupied with plot advancement, the rabbit trails can be quite scenic. So, once I learned that many of the characters in CRYPTONOMICON had ancestors in THE BAROQUE CYCLE, I determined to tackle the whole lot back-to-back, as if it were one giant novel. QUICKSILVER is the first audio installment of THE BAROQUE CYCLE, which is here divided into seven installments. In print form it is broken into eight books published in three hefty volumes.
I could tell from the comments of other listeners that this huge tome is not for everyone. If you require fast tight plotting, this may not be for you. If you enjoy witty repartee between vagabonds, kings, courtiers and thieves then this may be the mother lode. I liken Neal Stephenson to Gene Wolfe; another writer who can keep my interest just by the brilliance of his prose. It was in the middle of ODALISQUE, book three in the cycle, that I realized I didn’t much care that the plot was just creeping along, and that side trips to follow the numerous cast of characters kept taking me away from the one I liked best. I was enjoying the show and didn’t want it to end. This is truly not seven different novels, but one huge novel tied together by recurring characters and one vast and very satisfying story arc.
This accomplishment by Neal Stevenson is just the thing that the term magnum opus was coined for. Mr. Stevenson demonstrates his ability to manage a vast narrative alternate history and retains his focus over two-thousand six-hundred eighty-eight hardcover pages, through one-hundred fourteen hours of audiobook narration; yet the feel and texture and pacing is consistent throughout the entire work. Amazing. If you decide to tackle this tome you will be rewarded. It may cause you to rethink the whole audiobook medium.
I really enjoyed Stephenson’s insights into the politics of the scientific community, revolving around Isaac Newton. The fusing of Natural Philosophy (science), Alchemy, commodity-based monetary theory, rags-to-riches character transformations, and court intrigue make for a fascinating experience. Listening to this series is like taking a time-travel vacation to the eighteenth century. The shabby, muddy, miasmic grunge of the period’s living conditions sometimes remind me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Jabberwocky, with associated punch-lines. This is a very different world from the one we live in but I began to think I might understand it a little better and found that, in some ways, it might not be so bad.
If you are at all interested in free-market economics, and commodity-based monetary theory then one of the long-term story arcs will be of intense interest to you. Stevenson explores the impact of the foundation of the central Bank of England upon the flow of gold. And his deft insertion of an Alchemical component into the mix creates an enjoyable element of mystery. This is the storyline that required one-hundred hours to tell.
This is a Science Fiction work because the alternate-history angle with Alchemy infecting the realm of science will appeal to the SF fan. If you were provided with a plot outline or given some character sketches you may think this an historical novel, and it could be read from that perspective. But Science Fiction readers don’t as a rule read historical novels, but they will read this, therefore, whatever qualities it possesses, justify the SF label.
—PERSISTENT THEMES OF THE BAROQUE CYCLE—
Predestination versus Free-Will is on everyone’s mind
The debate between Protestantism versus Catholicism had a huge political impact
Geocentrism versus Heliocentrism is the only thing everyone can agree upon
Commodity-based Monetary theory makes the world work
Court Intrigue and witty conversations provide joy in every circumstance
Meritocracy rags-to-riches stories abound
People can endure much if they have hope
Vagabond underworld versus Persons of Quality show we have much in common
Alchemy counterpoised with Natural Philosophy revel the nature of science
Encryption and secret writing have long been employed
True love makes life worth living
Courtly liaisons show the shallowness of the ruling class to whom society is entrusted
Simon Prebble does yeoman’s work on this production. To my ear he nailed every single pronunciation of every word in the course of over one-hundred hours of narration—no mean feat. His character voicings are subtle but immediately recognizable. His talent allows him to even give convincing alternate pronunciations of words to the different characters that are appropriate to their individual personalities. The more foppish English characters habitually emphasize different syllables than the lower class characters. Despite the deep quality of his voice Simon Prebble handles both male and female character voices convincingly. His voice has a limited range but I was constantly amazed at how he could make subtle alterations in inflection, diction and pacing to effectively distinguish the various characters in a conversation. Simon Prebble achieves the desirable state of occupying the place in your head usually reserved for your own internal sub-vocalizations when you are reading a print book to yourself. This is a high achievement indeed and makes this a soothing book experience.
Narrated by Simon Prebble (Main text)
Kevin Pariseau (Chapter epigraphs)
Neal Stephenson (Introduction)
Checking out Brandon Sanderson's work
This story focuses more on Jack and Eliza and their adventures. it covers a different part of society during the same time period. Kind of makes you wonder how we came to be given this part of history. The story is engaging and thought provoking. I find the topic interesting and the reading is great.
I have read many Neal Stephenson books and this is one of my favorites.
The characters are absolutely fantastic. The story is a bit difficult to follow at times. The dialogue is engaging and you don't want to miss a single word.
The humor is genuine, very real and after the fact. I suspect there is much I missed.
I think I may have to listen to this one again to get the most from it.
Still I give this book well deserved praise for it's quality of the characters and the dialogue. The information on the limits and uses of technology of the times is fascinating.
This book is #2 in the Baroque Cycle. If you are considering this one, then I would expect that you have already listened to “Quicksilver”, the first book in the series.
I listened to this book because I couldn’t believe that a series could rate as high as this series does with a lead-off book (Quicksilver) that was as poor as that one was. This one had to be much better, right? Okay, to be fair, it was better. It was even much better, but the first book was so poor that being much better than “Quicksilver” meant that “King of the Vagabonds” was still average or a bit below.
The biggest improvement with this book is that this book actually has a story, with a beginning, a middle, and a hanging ending. The ending is such that it leaves you wondering how an author could leave the characters in such a state, but of course then you realize that this is a series. I am unwilling to spend any more time on this series just to learn what happens to the characters in it.
The writing is good, the narration is also fine, but the story left me flat at the end. I do wonder how the author ties up the ends that are left loose in this book, but not enough that I’m willing to listen to any more in this series.
This book doesn’t refer back to anything from the first book in any but the most superficial way. If I had skipped the first book and started the series with this one, I wouldn’t have missed anything. Had I done that, I might have even gone on to the next book. But one dud (Quicksilver) followed by a book that ends like a soap opera (King of the Vagabonds) isn’t something that I want to pursue for another five books and 87+ hours.
In the end, this book does at least have a story, which is an improvement on “Quicksilver”. Without pursuing the rest of the series I can’t speak with certainty, but I would recommend that you start with this book if you absolutely MUST get these books.
What a fun book, in between swashbuckling adventure and rescuing beauties, Mr. Stephenson teaches us history and we rarely notice we're learning!
King of the Vagabonds, Jack Shaftoe, must be the progenitor of Cap'n Jack Sparrow! Although the adventures of Jack Shaftoe circumnavigate the world.
The action picks up a notch and the characters are fewer, making it easier to follow. Also not as much jumping around compared to Quicksilver. Still the main focus of the book, like Quicksilver, is the rich historical period. The historical aspect of the series still seems to dominate the fictional characters and plots. Stephenson though writes extremely well and makes it come alive and interesting. Not dry historical fiction which tends to dominate the books I get. The narration continues to be top rate and probably makes this book a 5 star rather than a 4 star. Looking forward to book 3 in the series.