George V. Reilly

Review: Quicksilver (again)

Quicksilver
Title: Quick­sil­ver: The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1
Author: Neal Stephenson
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: William Morrow
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 927
Keywords: historical fiction
Reading period: 20 October–15 November, 2008

Almost two years ago, I read Quick­sil­ver, the first volume of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. It wasn’t until two months ago, that I read The Confusion and The System of the World, the second and third volumes. By then it was clear that I had forgotten much of the first book, so I re-read it.

The books are suf­fi­cient­ly in­ter­twined that it would have been better had I read all three in quick succession, rather than leaving such a long interval.

Quick­sil­ver stands up well to re-reading. Plot points that had escaped my notice earlier stood out to me now. He fore­shad­ows certain themes, such as economics and coinage, that will become important in later volumes. Daniel and Eliza’s anachro­nis­tic attitudes bothered me less this time around.

Overall, I recommend the Baroque Cycle, though you’ll need to set aside a good deal of time to read three such huge volumes. It’s an ambitious work, well told. Stephenson sheds light on a remarkable few decades when the world opened up, going from an age of Kings to the Age of En­light­en­ment, when alchemy crumbled and the foun­da­tions of modern science were laid, when the basis of economys went from land to thoroughly modern-sounding financial in­stru­ments.

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