In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves, including one “Half-Cocked Jack” Shaftoe, devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues that will place the intrepid band at odds with the mighty and the mad, with alchemists, Jesuits, great navies, pirate queens, and vengeful despots across vast oceans and around the globe.
Back in Europe, the exquisite and resourceful Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, master of markets, pawn and confidante of enemy kings, onetime Turkish harem virgin, is stripped of her immense personal fortune by France’s most dashing privateer. Penniless and at risk from those who desire either her or her head (or both), she is caught up in a web of international intrigue, even as she desperately seeks the return of her most precious possession -- her child.Meanwhile, Newton and Leibniz continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies. And Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.
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.
©2004 Neal Stephenson (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
“[Stephenson] might just have created the definitive historical-sci-fi-epic-pirate-comedy-punk-love story.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Monumental… combines adventure with Big Ideas and lots of intrigue.” (Locus)
“Vast, splendid, and absorbing.” (Publishers Weekly)
This is really a pirate adventure with a lot of historical fact, speculation, liberty and down-right fiction thrown in. It's very well written and read. A bit overlong in some of the description and detail, but the reading really makes an excellent job of hiding that.
I would strongly recommend that the listerner begins at the beginning of the Baroque Cycle and sees it through to the end, as most of the plot lines begin before, and finish well after, this book. Although it could be argued that this is a standalone listen I do not believe you would be doing the story any justice be stopping at the end of this book.
The reading and production of this is excellent. The characterisations are broad and consistent, with lots of emotion and humour conveyed.
I really enjoyed Quicksilver, originally the first of a trilogy of which this is meant to be the second book. Perhaps there were some warning signs in the fact that it was difficult to make out which book this was and how it fitted in the cycle. To say it is a sprawling novel would be an understatement. It is at times almost infuriatingly pleased with its own cleverness and it could easily have been half the length. And yet the whole thing just carries you along. There is a mordant sense of humour running through it which often saves the day when you feel you have heard one too many tall-tale, battle description or exegesis on economics and physics. The narrators are excellent with great voice characterisations. I docked it one star because it did almost drive me to distraction at times trying to keep up with all the plot twists. I would love to see someone try to bring these books to the big screen - there is a ready-made role there for Johnny Depp.
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 cannot remember enjoying a series this much since I read Lord of the Rings! Although, to be clear, the Baroque Cycle is nothing like Lord of the Rings. It does have men with swords, and a hero born of lowly stock who assembles a group of unlikely companions, and they fight bad guys together. And it also has kings and queens, lords and ladies, who are trying to influence the course of history. But that is only the barest outline of a small portion of the plot of this complex book, the second in the trilogy. It also describes how to make potassium (boil a lot of piss), how to organize a library (how did they do that before the Dewey Decimal system?), how to create a modern banking system, and other little things like that.
Two things particularly astonished me about this book. The first was that it was even better than the first novel in the series. This hardly ever happens, as I have found the middle books in many trilogies are just place-holders until you get to the real action in the third and final book. Not so here. Many new and interesting characters are introduced and get complete story arcs. The action never stops and everything ties together. Even though this is a long book, I did not feel anything was padded or superfluous.
The second thing that astonished me was what an incredible writer Neal Stephenson is. There is so much good writing here that I cannot even begin to catalog all the ways he demonstrates his mastery of his craft. One thing that definitely stood out for me was his way of describing things. I am often bothered by books (and movies, too) that purport to transport me back to another age, but use language that is totally modern. Not so here. As examples, I transcribed two quotes that I particularly liked [transcribed because I listened to the book]. Each is an example of the amazing way in which Stephenson describes things using similes that would make sense in the time and place of the story. In the first example, he compares the sight of a lit candelabra being carried by someone in the dark to a horde of fireflies . . . in the second, he compares someone writing with a quill pen to a dancer and then to a fencing master. This is simply brilliant writing.
“The stables of Versailles in December were not renowned for illumination, but Eliza could hear the gentleman’s satins hissing and his linens creaking as he bowed. She made curtseying noises in return. This was answered by a short burst of scratching and rasping as the gentleman adjusted his wig. She cleared her throat. He called for a candle and got a whole silver candelabra, a chevron of flames bobbing and banking like a formation of fireflies through the ambient miasma of horse breath, manure gas and wig powder.”
“The quill swirled and lunged over the page, in a slow but relentless three steps forward, two steps back sort of process and finally came to a full stop in a tiny pool of its own ink. Then, Louis Phelypeaux, First Compte de Pontchartrain, raised the nib, let it hover for an instant, as if gathering his forces, and hurled it backwards along the sentence, tiptoing over “i’s” and slashing through “t’s” and “x’s” nearly tripping over an umlaut, building speed and confidence while veering through a slalom course of acute and grave accents, pirouetting through cedillas and carving vicious snap-turns through circumflexes. It was like watching the world’s greatest fencing master dispatch twenty opponents with a single continuous series of maneuvers.”
[I highly recommend listening to this as an audio book read by Simon Prebble. He is completely amazing, switching accents and voices for the literally dozens of characters in this series. He also allows the humor in the book to shine through. Simply an amazing performance. I did speed up my player to listen at 1.25 speed and enjoyed it thoroughly—and a bit more quickly than the 34-hour running time.]
Putting books on the back burner.
The second volume in the Baroque Cycle consist of two books into 34 hours and 30 minutes, or 848 pages. "The Confusion" combines "Bonanza" (book 4) and "The Juncto" (book 5) together into one large sum. The two books intertwine together, telling three main parts all at the same time, hence "The Confusion." The subject of pirates in the sea, capture of the slaves and the ongoing value of the currency, makes this to be an awesome book to tackle.
The two books are companions to each other by flashing back and forth into each plot. You can't read these books separately and will be force to read the complete volume into one set. The best comparison of the second volume is "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell. Neal Stephenson has the same style of storytelling in "The Confusion."
Very much like a Swiss Army knife, you get all of the necessary tools to continue on with the series.
I've been on other sites that also reviews books and "The Confusion" has stirred up mix results. Some people love it and other can't seem to get through the first chapter. To all of the naysayers that are cursing Stephenson of writing out of his genre, here are my thoughts. I agree with some of you that it's somewhat weird to see a science fiction author writing about the 18th century. When I first started this series, I wasn't expecting an history lesson, but as a fan boy of Stephenson, I appreciate his efforts at writing out of his comfort zone.
There are many popular authors who writes the same thing over and over by having sequel after sequel like book #26. Neal Stephenson is still an indie author because in all of his novels, the story ends at the last page of the book. He doesn't keep extending the line with the same pen in other novels.
I cannot wait to come to the last period or question mark in the Baroque Cycle.
So far, they have all been excellent and once you stop labeling Neal Stephenson as a stereotypical sci fi writer, you can quickly get into the Cycle.
I listened to the version with 4 segments and the quality was great. When I downloaded the entire book in one part, the final 7 hours, 39 min are MISSING from the download. I tried it twice.
Checking out Brandon Sanderson's work
This is a pretty good tale about Jack's journey's around the globe touching on several different societies. Eliza also figures prominently in this book and provides an overall excellent adventure. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between the fiction and reality but that is what makes the book fun to read.
The performance is great and really brings the characters to life. Overall a good read.
I have been loving the ride on this series. It's long and delicious and brilliant and witty. The characters are people you really want to know better - even the ones that aren't icons of history like Newton and Leibnitz.
Daniel Waterhouse's movements through the story.
Yes. Prebble, Kellgren, and Pariseau narrated the earlier books in this series as well. They are consummate!
Yes, I laughed many times and occasionally got misty-eyed.
Neal Stephenson is a planetary treasure.
favorite is Jack
When Jack is "King" and checks on "the potato"
The character's distinct personalities are brought to life through the narrators. I would miss out, particularly, in hearing Jack Shaftoe's dialect.
Jack, of course, to see what might happen.
"'Epic' now has a whole new definition..."
This series gets better and better!
The Baroque Cycle really is vast. Part of me wants to listen over again from the start to make sure I grasped everything, though I confess the sheer length of these books is daunting. I will certainly be re-reading Cryptonomicon though.
Great books, especially now we're past all the bewildering financial and economic stuff in the earlier volumes. Prebble is a wonderful narrator, with an amazing range of character voices.
My one and only irk with these audiobooks has been Kevin Pariseau who reads the little quotations at the start of each section - truly awful intonation and reading that renders the most straightforward text completely incomprehensible. (but he's not in it much thankfully!)
Can't wait to start the next book in the Cycle...
"The best so far"
This book is the best so far in this series. Plenty of different inlerlinking stories. A history of discovery, navigation science and politics.
Really enjoyed listening to this.
"the cycle grinds to a confusing halt, here..."
i wouldn't say it was wasted, but i lost the will to continue; who would have thought that such exciting events as battles aboard pirate ships could become boring to hear about. there is some really nice writing in some of the preceding books; i didn't feel there was so much here, but there is still some (and obviously it's a remarkable undertaking). i just lost the narrative threads at some point and really didn't have the energy to go back over and try to pick 'em up again.
i'd leave it up to them entirely.
not enough here of my favourite characters from preceding books. i like jack, and simon prebble does sterling work with him but i felt his "voice", i.e., his character, its uniqueness, got lost a bit in flat descriptions of events. can't stand eliza's whiny drawl
yes, and it would benefit from the inevitable shortening of the text into a script. the whole cycle could have really done with editing down.
i'd watch it as a tv series. the first two books are definitely worth reading.
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