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?
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.
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.
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.
My reviews are honest. No sugar coating here.
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.
near the top
the characters, more of a story than the first installment.
yes, Simon Preble was great reading 1984.
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...
This book I found considerably less interesting than Quicksilver, dealing as it does primarily with the decidedly picaresque adventures of a vagabond. He hooks up with Eliza, the only female character of the book, who quickly establishes herself as the brains of their partnership. Once she gets to Amsterdam and begins to manipulate both men and their money, she becomes one of the most interesting female characters I have come across in quite some time.
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)
"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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