A chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of “Half-Cocked Jack” Shaftoe – London street urchin turned legendary swashbuckling adventurer – risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox – and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the newborn power of finance.
The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson’s award-winning series, spans the late 17th and early 18th centuries, combining history, adventure, science, invention, piracy, and alchemy into one sweeping tale. It is a gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive historical epic populated by the likes of Isaac Newton, William of Orange, Benjamin Franklin, and King Louis XIV, along with some of the most inventive literary characters in modern fiction.
Audible’s complete and unabridged presentation of The Baroque Cycle was produced in cooperation with Neal Stephenson. Each volume includes an exclusive introduction read by the author.
Listen to more titles in the Baroque Cycle.
©2003 Neal Stephenson (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
“Bawdy, learned, hilarious, and utterly compelling, [it] is sprawling to the point of insanity and resoundingly, joyously good.” (Times of London)
“Thrillingly clever, suspenseful, and amusing.” (New York Times Book Review)
"Most tales of 'olde' times are replete with castles, robed lords and ladies, and handsome men on horseback. But what about the wretches they pass on the side of the road as they go off to a lively joust?
In Book 2 of The Baroque Cycle is set in the same time period as Book 1, but concerns an entirely different set of characters and wholly different viewpoint than Book 1. The protagonist is Jack, a vagabond, a perfect rouge who could only be compared to the likes of Falstaff or Harry Flashman. Jack sees an entirely different view of the late 17th century than that provided by the moneyed, puritan of Book 1. This is a London where enterprising young boys can make money by clinging to the legs of hanging men (to hasten their deaths), a Paris where the rat catcher is a man of great influence and an Amsterdam so incredibly rich and free from petty corruption that a man like Jack can hardly find a place for himself. This is a viewpoint rarely found in historical novels, that of the least regarded, the poor, peasants, vagabonds, wretches, slaves, and prostitutes. In this book, Stephenson also introduces his most compelling female character. An intelligent, capable and witty young woman, sold into slavery at a young age and determined to both succeed and to gain her revenge. This volume is much more focused on fun, adventure and humor than Book 1. Nonetheless it is brimming with descriptions of the social, political, religious and commercial changes that were transforming Europe at that time.
I strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Stephenson or good historical novels.
This book, although about Half-Cock Jack (no, that is not "half-cocked"), is really a bridge between Book 1 and 3. Jack finds Eliza at the siege of Vienna, and by the end of the book you start to realize that Eliza is going to be more of a character than Jack will.
Book 1 showed the scientists and mathematicians, and their noble patrons, while this story shifts focus on the poor. So there are vagabonds, soldiers, miners, Satanists, Turks, hareems, the oddities and intrigues of nobles, spies, diplomats, early modern capitalism and more. The action is definitely higher than in book 1. Better yet, Neal Stephenson doesn't shift gears back and forth in time anywhere near as much (or so it seems) as in Book 1, so it is much easier to follow, especially if you are doing something else.
The section on early modern capitalism - focusing mainly on the trading center in Amsterdam - is very interesting. Well worth sitting still and listening to that section. The section in which Jack gets entangled with the Satanists is a bit hard to follow, requiring you slow down and pay attention. All in all a number of "laugh out loud" moments, which makes this yarn a rollicking one. One cautionary note, however: this book is a little more sexually oriented than Book 1, so if you are listening in the car with others - especially children - you are going to have to turn it off unless you want to answer a lot of interesting questions.
The narrator, Simon Prebble, shows that the range of his voices is even greater than in Book 1, and continues to keep me engaged.. Hey, you got through Book 1, and if you ignored the reviews there and listened anyway - and found it interesting - trust me that you will enjoy this one too.
Too bad the first book (Quicksilver) turned off so many Audible listeners. If they had continued on to this book and the rest of the series many of them would have changed their minds. The books combine a history of an interesting period in Europe, the origins of mechanics and calculus, the development of modern money, markets and banking, and a look at Cairo and India in the late 17th Century with great adventure yarns. Neal Stephenson is amazing and these books are some of his best.
In "Quicksilver" it was all about learning the elitist and the upper class, but in "King of the Vagabonds" it's all about understanding the have nots. I will keep this review short just because I cannot wait to continue with the series. In this book there is a lot more action than intellectual conversation between the classes. The best way to describe the Baroque Cycle series so far, think Ken Folliet and historical fiction, but from a cyber punk, Neal Stephenson.
Book 2 of the Baroque Cycle is a lot more fun than Book 1.
That doesn't mean it doesn't have the same flaws. There is still very little approaching a plot. The narrative is still merely an device that enables Stephenson to describe at great length the politics, economics and science of 17th century Europe. There are only the vaguest gestures toward narrative progression, there are numerous entirely extraneous incidents, and the novel stops rather than ends.
But as long as you can tolerate the above, this is an enjoyable work. Jack and Eliza are extremely entertaining protagonists - seeing the glories and horrors of baroque Europe through the eyes of a cheeky cockney vagabond and a hyper-intelligent courtesan is a lot more fun than the rather anonymous protagonist of Book 1. And unlike the previous novel, this one has an astonishing geographic and social range, spanning the muddy slums of London, the silver mines of Germany, the wars between the Turks and the Austrians, the banking cities of the Netherlands, the palaces of France, and the slave galleys of North Africa.
And while there is verbiage aplenty and the usual ridiculously detailed explanations and descriptions from Stephenson, some of them are absolutely wonderful - I particularly enjoyed his surreal, dreamlike description of the siege of Vienna and of Eliza's byzantine plotting with various crowned heads of Europe.
These novels are not for everyone but this one requires considerably less patience and its charms are more immediately evident to the reader interested in a turning point in world history.
This part of the story takes place at the same time as "Quicksilver," but follows the amusing beginnings of the character of Jack Shaftoe, a professional vagabond, as he travels the globe always in search of the next thing to make him rich. We also meet Eliza, the infamous beauty and terrifyingly intelligent woman who starts as a concubine, and will eventually rise to duchess.
Highly detailed, and sometimes slow moving, the entire story will span over 50 years, the reign of many different kings and queens across europe, several trips to America and back, pirates, african queens, and the Philosopher's Stone. Well worth slogging through the slow points to find out what happens in the end.
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.
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.
"Introducing Jack and Eliza"
If you have read "Quicksilver" and were not put off by the negative reviews for the first book your efforts will be rewarded and you will soon find the narrative gaining momentum as Jack enters to reak havok across Europe. The sections that relate Jack's adventures are certainly the most fun parts of this excellent novel. Nothing less than 5 stars for this extraordinary and highly entertaining work. See my reviews for the other parts.
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