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The Confusion: The Baroque Cycle, # 2by Neal Stephenson
"Stephenson has always excelled at pushing to the limits of absurdity....What Stephenson seems to be telling us throughout the Baroque Cycle is that the actual way things really happened — the way systems of credit were created, or timber delivered — is just as kooky as anything that a fabulist could concoct out of the wild speculation of his or her own mind." Andrew Leonard, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves — including one Jack Shaftoe, a.k.a. King of the Vagabonds, a.k.a. Half-Cocked Jack, lately and miraculously cured of the pox — devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues, rife with battles, chases, hairbreadth escapes, swashbuckling, bloodletting, and danger — a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver... nay, gold... nay, legendary gold 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
Newton and Leibniz continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies, stubborn alchemy does battle with the natural sciences, nobles are beheaded, dastardly plots are set in motion, coins are newly minted (or not) in enemy strongholds, father and sons reunite in faraway lands, priests rise from the dead... and Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.
"The title of Stephenson's vast, splendid and absorbing sequel to Quicksilver (2003) suggests the state of mind that even devoted fans may face on occasion as they follow the glorious and exceedingly complex parallel stories of Jack Shaftoe, amiable criminal mastermind, and Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, courageous secret agent and former prisoner in a Turkish harem. In 1689, Jack recovers his memory in Algiers, evades galley slavery and joins a quest for the lost treasure of a Spanish pirate named Carlos Olancho Macho y Macho. This leads to adventures at sea worthy of Patrick O'Brian, and hairbreadth escapes from the jaws of the Inquisition. Meanwhile, Eliza is captured by the historical (and distinguished) French privateer Jean Bart while trying to escape to England with her baby. She must then navigate the intrigues of the court of Louis XIV, which are less lethal than those of the Inquisition by a small margin, but still make for uneasy sleep for a friendless female spy. Her correspondence with such scientific minds as Wilhelm Leibniz helps propel the saga's chronicling of the roots of modern science at a respectable clip. Of course, one can't call anything about the Baroque Cycle 'brisk,' but the richness of detail and language lending verisimilitude to the setting and depth to the characters should be reward enough for most readers. Agent, Liz Darhansoff at Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman Literary Agents. Forecast: The third volume of the trilogy, The System of the World, is due in September (and it may take readers till then to finish volume two). Though fatigue might winnow out a few fans, most should stay the course." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[H]efty but propulsive....Packed with more derring-do than a dozen pirate films and with smarter, sparklier dialogue than a handful of Pulitzer winners, this is run-and-gun adventure fiction of the most literate kind." Kirkus Reviews
"Stephenson is a graceful writer, never getting bogged down in detail, keeping the story moving, dazzling us with his technique....
"[E]very bit as rollicking and overstuffed as its predecessor....
"The Baroque Cycle...will defy any category, genre, precedent, or label — except genius....Stephenson has a once-in-a-generation gift: he makes complex ideas clear, and he makes them funny, heartbreaking, and thrilling." Time
"In its complexity, as well as the way it creates a vibrant fantasy world...the Baroque Cycle is one of the closest analogues to The Lord of the Rings trilogy we're likely to come across." Marc Mohan, The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"[A] work of idiosyncratic beauty whose plots boast tangled, borderless roots....[Stephenson's] globe (an irregular pearl?) never ceases to astonish us or its own creator, even as it grows smaller with each new discovery." David Ng, The Village Voice
"Stephenson seems to take his aesthetic cue from [the Baroque] era's architecture, renowned for its elaborate embellishments and over-the-top ornamentation. And it works....
"[W]hen Stephenson completes his ambitious Baroque Cycle...he might just have created the definitive historical-sci-fi-epic-pirate-comedy-punk love story. No easy feat, that. (Grade: A-)" John Giuffo, Entertainment Weekly
"Stephenson excels in marrying geekspeak with riotous action. When he describes a battle or a duel, his prose acquires thrilling panache....Unfortunately, these vibrant scenes are rare in a vast, dreary landscape." Josh Lacey, The Guardian (U.K.)
"Brimming with period detail and spiced with literate humor reminiscent of the works of John Barth, this prequel to Stephenson's sf thriller Cryptonomicon demonstrates his masterly storytelling. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"The Confusion is a rousing adventure of action and ideas, funny, gripping and informative....No matter where Stephenson finishes up, [this series] will have been one heck of a voyage." Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle
"The Confusion's greatest flaw...is bound up with its most striking achievement....His novel, stuffed with exposition and descriptions of places and processes, lacks narrative drive." Mark Kamine, Times Literary Supplement
"Stephenson has plainly steeped himself up to the eyebrows in his chosen era, and can render entertaining treatises...that carry absolute authenticity. And his genius with elaborate set pieces of plotting is exemplary. (Grade: B+)" Paul Di Filippo, SciFi.com
"[A] brawny, barrel-chested work of beauty. Stephenson's unique prose style — at once charmingly old-fashioned and punk rock snappy — is usually enough of an incentive to keep turning pages....
"The plots...multiply and cross-pollinate faster than e-mail viruses, conveyed at times by passages so creakingly expository and characters so unrelentingly wooden — you take the good with the bad with Stephenson — you fear for splinters..." John Burns, Toronto Globe and Mail
"The characters laying the bricks of this lengthy plot are an uninspiring lot....There is a story...but it is so smothered in ornament, discursion and detail that it's often impossible to see what unifies the whole." John Alden, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
The second in the Baroque Cycle three-volume epic tale, The Confusion picks up where Quicksilver left off, and, as expected, thrills readers until its final page.
In this compelling adventure, Stephenson brings to life a cast of unforgettable characters in the late 1600s on the high seas. It is a time of breathtaking genius and discovery for men and women whose exploits define an age known as Baroque.
About the Author
Neal Stephenson is the author of the bestselling Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) as well as the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac.He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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