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Publisher's Summary

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.

Critic Reviews

“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? is about those men, the poor, the grifters, whose names are lost to history—the vagabonds. Stephenson's novel tells their story, with the able help of storyteller Simon Prebble. Prebble's witty banter is perfect as the voice of Jack, a knave who is out to prove that even a lowborn can succeed in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Prebble even does a great job with the historical characters such as Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, and others. Equal parts action and adventure, along with a healthy dose of humor, make this a great listen." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Shannon
  • Garden City, NY, United States
  • 01-18-16

Amazing Performance!

That's is the first and most important thing to say about having this book on audio vs text. An amazing character development for which Stephenson I'd so adept. This was a wonderful 2nd book of "The Baroque" series and I most enjoyed that he went from high left oligarchy/royalty to salt of the earth recognition and rendering of the far right characters who endured the realities of the common person with the pulses of entrepreneurship flowing in their veins.

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well written, wonderful narration

Simon Preble is a fantastic narrator, his pace and tone are always appropriate, and his characterizations give life and are never over the top.
now the story, I am a long time fan of Neil Stephenson, and like all his books this is compelling and well paced, more action in then Quicksilver, if you are looking for that, exhaustively detailed. the majority of yhe novel maintains a very light, adventurous tone, the character seem both charmed and charming. The last few chapters though, get heavy, or rather are brought down to earth. SPOILER : In the book there are two very different instances of sexual assault, they are realistic and not sensationalized, but nonetheless it took me a moment to get back into the story.

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Beautiful and bleak and has the ring of truth

This is the second of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books that I have listened to, and they just keep getting better. They have the feel of Umberto Eco's work, but without trying to overwhelm the reader. Stephenson presents a realistic view of the world in 17th century Europe. Its accordingly dark, bleak, and savage, but also very beautiful. Also, do not expect a happy ending-instead, look forward to a real one. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.

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Outstanding!

Outstanding! My third listening. Stephenson is top of his field & Prebble is master of the read!

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  • Clayton W.
  • Montpelier, VT, United States
  • 01-18-15

Stephenson is great!

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...

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Imp of the Perverse Embodied in Brilliant Fiction

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)

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  • Kevin
  • Herndon, VA, United States
  • 10-17-14

The Series from the Vagabonds point of view

This story focuses more on Jack and Eliza and their adventures. it covers a different part of society during the same time period. Kind of makes you wonder how we came to be given this part of history. The story is engaging and thought provoking. I find the topic interesting and the reading is great.

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Neal Stephenson once again shows his brilliance

If you could take any character from King of the Vagabonds out to dinner, who would it be and why?

Any additional comments?

I have read many Neal Stephenson books and this is one of my favorites.

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  • Peter
  • Prince George, BC, Canada
  • 08-28-13

Exceptional character development

Any additional comments?

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.<br/><br/>The humor is genuine, very real and after the fact. I suspect there is much I missed.<br/>I think I may have to listen to this one again to get the most from it. <br/><br/>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.

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  • Loren
  • Indiana, USA
  • 08-07-13

Better than Book 1 in this series, but not enough.

This book is #2 in the Baroque Cycle. If you are considering this one, then I would expect that you have already listened to “Quicksilver”, the first book in the series.

I listened to this book because I couldn’t believe that a series could rate as high as this series does with a lead-off book (Quicksilver) that was as poor as that one was. This one had to be much better, right? Okay, to be fair, it was better. It was even much better, but the first book was so poor that being much better than “Quicksilver” meant that “King of the Vagabonds” was still average or a bit below.

The biggest improvement with this book is that this book actually has a story, with a beginning, a middle, and a hanging ending. The ending is such that it leaves you wondering how an author could leave the characters in such a state, but of course then you realize that this is a series. I am unwilling to spend any more time on this series just to learn what happens to the characters in it.

The writing is good, the narration is also fine, but the story left me flat at the end. I do wonder how the author ties up the ends that are left loose in this book, but not enough that I’m willing to listen to any more in this series.

This book doesn’t refer back to anything from the first book in any but the most superficial way. If I had skipped the first book and started the series with this one, I wouldn’t have missed anything. Had I done that, I might have even gone on to the next book. But one dud (Quicksilver) followed by a book that ends like a soap opera (King of the Vagabonds) isn’t something that I want to pursue for another five books and 87+ hours.

In the end, this book does at least have a story, which is an improvement on “Quicksilver”. Without pursuing the rest of the series I can’t speak with certainty, but I would recommend that you start with this book if you absolutely MUST get these books.

– Loren

1 of 2 people found this review helpful