The trials of Dr. Daniel Waterhouse and the Natural Philosophers increase one hundredfold in an England plagued by the impending war and royal insecurities, as the beautiful and ambitious Eliza plays a most dangerous game as double agent and confidante of enemy kings.
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.
“Rollicking good fun…Historical fiction driven by the history of ideas… Stephenson is a magnificent chronicler.” (Wall Street Journal)
“Sprawling, irreverent, and ultimately profound.” (Newsweek)
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)
Katherine Kellgrin (Eliza’s letters)
Neal Stephenson (Introduction)
I found the addition of Katherine Kellgren as Eliza in the third book a little jarring, after having gotten used to Simon Prebble doing Eliza's voice in the two previous books (and doing a seamless job of it, too.)
Kellgren's Eliza is a touch too arch, too insufferably prissy; not how I imagined Eliza to be. It makes the numerous readings of Eliza's correspondence in this book three of the cycle seem interminable. This stands out because, though this is a ridiculously long work, I rarely lose patience with its length - and I remember reading through the correspondence sections of the third book without any impatience or sense of 'slogging through'.
I think her voice is just a bit too much, like trying to make an entire meal of lemon bars. Makes you long for plain bread. I'm hoping this effect lessens as the books go on.
Do you read the book before you dislike my reviews?
"Odalisque" is the last book in the first volume and there are two more volumes to go. I'm not too sure why Audible decided to split up the three volumes into eight books, but so far, the third book is my favorite. The story is finally moving along in Baroque Cycle.
Unlike Quicksilver, which was basically the premise, and King of the Vagabonds, which was explaining the day wagers, Odalisque goes back at exams the hierarchy of the monarch. The story between of Daniel and Eliza makes it more compelling to read. The best part of this chapter in the series is the science and astronomy from Newton and his peers.
In any series that I listens to, at certain point I need to read something else because after the third book, I loose interest. Maybe because I'm a fan of Stephenson or been waiting to read Baroque Cycle, I'm powering through these books and can't wait for more.
The audio books I get tend to be either 1) scifi or 2) things for my husband and me to listen to on long road trips--humor or history
I think listening to this as an audio book is probably the very best way to experience it. There are long stretches that are letters written by Eliza, which by their nature involved long explanations of things Eliza had done. I wish the author had simply shown Eliza interacting with people and her environment, since she is such an unusual and compelling female protagonist. Seeing her primarily through her letters made her feel more distant, although she does explain lots of interesting things about early commerce, such as how insurance began (Lloyd's was originally a coffee shop!), how to be an effective spy, and how to use binary code encrypted in needlepoint to send coded messages. Still, I found my mind drifting at times, and thought more than once that if I had been reading this as a hard copy book, I probably would have given up. But the audio performers do a lovely job of pulling the listener along on this fantastic voyage, in much the same way that a really good Shakespearean actor can make you understand the meaning of what is being said, even if you don't comprehend every word.
We continue to follow Jack and Eliza as they make their way in the world, both trying to save the other from a life of poverty, generally by lots of subterfuge, a little bit of theft, and some occasional bad decisions.
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.
It is a great story that has characters pulled from history - but that means that a large part of this is about filling the reader in on the historical context in which certain event and characters are important. This is not a story for people who want instant gratification - but it is still a very good read.
Checking out Brandon Sanderson's work
I got into this series reading Locus award winners for SCI-FI . Not sure how this series got there. I also did not realize there were 8 books (only three won awards). And then to find out that this is really sort of three books (long ones) broken into 8 books...one can't keep track. This book was covers some pretty interesting historical events and is quite interesting.
The performance is great - the reader gives unique personalities to all the characters. Overall its a pretty good read.
This book was a significant drop in quality for me. Seemed to overly emphasize historical facts and description of the scenes. Less action and storyline around the characters. A little more fictional drama and plot would be great. It is starting to sound like a high school world history textbook. The addition of a new narrator was a disaster in my book. Her voice did not match the character I envisioned for Eliza. It became distracting and I commonly zoned out when her voice started. Unfortunately that was coupled with a new story telling style of using letters written among the characters as a way to advance the book along. I found this style boring and a big draw back to the pace of the book. It just ground to a halt in my mind when one of the letters were read.
I did give the book a 3 because the research needed to write this book must have been immense. Stephenson is also a talented writer and he gives me hope for the future books. Since I have already bought the complete series, I guess I will move forward to book four. If I had not, this could have been the end of the line for this series.
I'm a Stephenson fan, having thoroughly enjoyed Anathem, Crypotnomicon and Snow Crash (could not get through Diamond Age).
Starting the Baroque Cycle, I thought Quicksilver was great, with a lot of focus on math, science and some religion and politics in a historical storytelling style. The second book, King of the Vagabonds disappointed me somewhat because it was a complete departure from the first - but still entertaining on a different level as an adventure story. The Confusion and Odalisque sort of bored me and i couldn't get through Odalisque. I agree with another reviewer about the female narrator being a bit melodramatic with the voice acting to the point where I couldn't stand the sections she read.
I don't think i'll be continuing on the Baroque Cycle path unfortunately... it all got a bit too tedious for me.
"Eliza doesn't sound like Katherine Kellgren!"
Love the Baroque Cycle and Simon Prebble's narration of it. Tolerated Kevin Pariseau's curious phrasing of the quotes at the beginnings of each chapter, but really didn't like Katherine Kellgren's interpretation of Eliza - she doesn't match my 'picture' of Eliza at all; on audible.com someone wrote she was 'too arch; too prissy' and I have to say I agree...
Great historical detail but you need to check the who is who to understand the real from fictional characters
"Swashbuckling and stockbroking"
If you liked volume one and two enough to consider buying volume 3 don't be too put off. Poor Katherine Kellgren doesn't really nail Eliza for other reviewers or, indeed, this one. But she wasn't bad enough to stop me enjoying it and in later volumes she was retired. So even if you do find her intolerable it won't last for the whole series. Part of this volume is spent in Versailles and the Hague and once again we get a great plot alongside fascinating historical details about the French political system at the time and the rise of the international finance markets. Deep, rich, geeky stuff underpinned by great plot dynamics and snappy dialogue
"the woman's voice is appalling"
i'm reserving judgement
Simon Prebble is one of my favourite narrators (along with Lorelei King, Will Patton, Phyllida Nash and Stephen Fry) and he's wonderful here. The voice of the person reading Eliza, however, is so appalling, so arch and grating that I am having to skip over her chapters, which means missing out on a lot of history and, I expect, plot points - I may yet have to return the book. What a disaster; why botch the not-broken? Simon Prebble read Eliza so well before.
"Intrigue, Technology and Commerce"
The third part of Stephenson's chronicle of intrigue, technology and commerce focuses on Eliza and her adventures in France. A third of the way through but the real story is only beginning. Each part of this wonderful book deserves its own review and five star rating.
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