In keeping with its title and the cycle of which it is a part, this book is exemplary of Neal Stephenson's inimitable style, though this time wrought in a Baroque form. Great prose beautifully written, outstanding plot, diverse subject matter and realistic, breathing characters, historical fact filigreed with invented fancy. The work itself is almost flawless, typical of Stephenson's handiwork.
I read these books as they were released, and was afraid that the dozens of characters, each with different countries as their home and of differing levels of literacy might prove confounding to any narrator. Happily I found the narrator Simon Prebble equal to the task.
Although the characters are numerous, Mr. Prebble makes each one distinct. Even the young and old Daniel Waterhouse get different voices. Mr. Prebble somehow manages to make it obvious they are the same character, albeit one is a version 40 years younger than the other.
The fact that the characters might be English, Irish, French, Dutch, American, German, African, etc. might present a problem for a lesser narrator, but portraying these diverse accents doesn't seem to be any problem for Mr. Prebble. For instance, switching from Jack's East London to Leibniz's German accent is done easily and transparently, even when they are conversing with each other. Sometimes I think Mr. Prebble might be having a little fun at the French character's expense by making their accents a little outrageous at times. Where there are songs, Mr. Prebble sings; when speaking a fictitious language (the native tongue of Eliza's home Qwghlm) he sounds like a native.
Mr. Prebble's diction is generally superb, only a few times did I find a muddled word here or there and, since I listen mostly in the car or airplanes, quite possibly due to the environment and not the narration.
The recording itself is quite good. Constant fiddling with the volume knob isn't necessary on this recording as it is on other audio books. Unfortunately, there is one annoying production issue concerning the narration of the excerpted works at the beginning of each chapter. The difference in the timbre of the recording is quite noticeable, and seems to suffer from undue amounts of digital aliasing. Possibly these were recorded in a different studio? The narrator is different for these, Kevin Pariseau, though the lapse in quality is not his. All in all, a minor flaw that hardly detracts from an otherwise overwhelmingly good production of an outstanding piece of literature.
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