January 22, 2007
The Baroque Cycle - A Review
I finished reading The System Of The World at the weekend, which finishes off The Baroque Cycle (UK/US), by Neal Stephenson. Yes, I've read all 3000 or so pages of the monster story. And I'm pleased to say it was worth it.
It is, in short, quite amazing. If you know nothing about it, here's a quick summary.
Science, politics, economics, pirates, daring adventures, kings, thieves, wars and the genesis of computers. Yes, all of that.
The story follows a handful of characters through the late 17th century and into the early 18th century. (About 1650 ish to 1714). The characters include a scientist (called Natural Philosopher in those days) who shared a room at college with Isaac Newton, a vagabond turned folk hero, a woman rescued from a Harem turned financial wizard, a whole of host of The Royal Society and quite a few kings. The action is set mainly in Europe, mostly in London, although things do take off around the world at one point. One of the central relationships in the story is the rivalry between Leibniz and Newton, over who invented calculus. It sounds dry, but the writing is fantastic, fun, witty and full of adventure. It brings the period to startling life.
As a tip, don't expect too much of a conventional plot, especially in Quicksilver. Yes stuff happens, but lots of stuff happens. Forget expectations and just enjoy the ride. The Confusion is probably the closest to a conventional set of plots, and for me the most enjoyable part of the saga. Having said that the final part brings everything together very nicely and has some great set pieces.
By the end of the story you really know the characters well, love them or hate them. You've lived their lives, been along for the ups and downs. Stephenson is often criticised for his endings but The Baroque Cycle ends wonderfully. With enough pages for a normal writer to use as a novel, he slowly winds some things up, whilst bringing several threads to a great climax. Then make us happy with some epilogues.
I finished the last page beaming. It was a fantastic journey. You really should read it.