In the year 1714, the world is a most confused and unsteady place — especially London, center of finance, innovation, and conspiracy — when Daniel Waterhouse makes his less-than-triumphant return to England’s shores. Aging Puritan and Natural Philosopher, confidant of the high and mighty, and contemporary of the most brilliant minds of the age, he has braved the merciless sea and an assault by the infamous pirate Blackbeard to help mend the rift between two adversarial geniuses at a princess’s behest. But while much has changed outwardly, the duplicity and danger that once drove Daniel to the American Colonies is still coin of the British realm.
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.
“Self-indulgent ambition disguised as historical fiction was never this much fun—or this successful.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Stands out as a masterwork of time, place, and people.” (Library Journal)
With two left to go, this one has been the most fun. There's a lot less of courtly politics and a lot more outrageous fun. It's all quite a bit over the top and ends with the punch line of what has to be the longest shaggy dog joke in literature. My feeling all along with this series is that Stephenson may be the most arrogant writer I've ever come across and he writes these huge checks with his ego -- then he manages to cash them and we all have a good time. I guess if you have the chops, you can be arrogant like that.
Stephenson's writing is voluminous and - to be honest - full of extraneous details and side-trips. I happen to LOVE the side trips and enjoy every minute of the stories. He can be a little graphic in rubbing your nose in the dirty details of life in 17th and 18th Century Europe, but I can forgive that as it is surrounded by such delightful characters, deeply intertwined story threads, and magnificently crafted surprise twists.
If you're a smart person who loves complex and rich storytelling, you will love this entire epic series of books. The performances in the audiobooks are astoundingly good.
I'm a professor at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. I love reading (and listening) to pieces about military history.
While I enjoyed listening to the piece, particularly the random digressions about English heraldry, the origin of the word coin, and other such tidbits, I was really annoyed by the ending of the book, or rather the lack of an ending. I understand this is part of an apparently never-ending cycle of books, but is it too much to ask that at least some of the plot lines be resolved at the end of the book? Moreover, based on the opening of the book, which was rather lackluster, I worry that even when a resolution comes, it won't be all that satisfying.
The body of the novel was interesting, if meandering. There are many characters flitting in and out, usually with no particular announcement of their connection with the rest of the story. Eventually, the connection becomes evident but patience is required from the listener to follow along the journey without any clear idea as to where you are or where you are going. I suspect that if I relisten, knowing now how the characters are connected, I would discern a fair bit of foreshadowing and other elements that are missed,
There is a great deal of erudition and research that went into the piece. Mostly, this emerges in a natural way though sometimes the plot veers artificially into scenes that are merely there to illustrate some aspect of English life in the early 18th century but not advancing the plot at all. For instance, the bear-baiting scene, while somewhat interesting, is a pure detour as are the early scenes in Dartmoor about using tin to make coins and a steam engine to extract the water from the flooded tin mines. These scenes seemed more about demonstrating the author's research than connecting naturally to the plot. (I might be wrong about the tin mines. It seems possible that this issue will be returned to in some future book in the cycle.)
The voice performance of the principal reader was excellent. He's able to pull off a wide range of accents and inflections which helped to flesh out the characters in the mind's eye. Some of these, like the full-on Scottish brogue of one of the characters, are difficulty to do convincingly.
Bottom line: Atmosphere = A, Vocal performance = A+, Plot = B+, Resolution = F
Neal seems to be most interested in producing a period tale that richly honors the mores of the time. In some ways the story seems to be incidental to Neal's historical descriptions. My favorite elements of the Baroque Cycle and this book included are how well he has produced a window into the culture and society of the past.
The narrator's performance is excellent in that he enables the listener to keep track of the many characters.
Daniel has re-entered the story as a main character, after many years of quiet life in Boston, starting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he assumes will fail as everyone believes it to be a joke (Ha ha).
Jack is in possession of a rather unusual ship. And Eliza is still treading deep waters in royal politics.
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.
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