From Publishers Weekly
The colossal and impressive third volume (after Quicksilver
and The Confusion
) of Stephenson's magisterial exploration of the origins of the modern world in the scientific revolution of the baroque era begins in 1714. Daniel Waterhouse has returned to England, hoping to mediate the feud between Sir Isaac Newton and Leibniz, both of whom claim to have discovered the calculus and neither of whom is showing much scientific rationality in the dispute. This brawl takes place against the background of the imminent death of Queen Anne, which threatens a succession crisis as Jacobite (Stuart, Catholic) sympathizers confront supporters of the Hanoverian succession. Aside from the potential effect of the outcome on the intellectual climate of England, these political maneuverings are notable for the role played by trilogy heroine Eliza de la Zour, who is now wielding her influence over Caroline of Ansbach, consort of the Hanoverian heir. Eliza has risen from the streets to the nobility without losing any of her creativity or her talents as a schemer; nor has outlaw Jack Shaftoe lost any of his wiliness. What he may have lost is discretion, since he oversteps the boundaries of both law and good sense far enough to narrowly escape the hangman. In the end, reluctant hero Waterhouse prevails against the machinations of everybody else, and scientific (if not sweet) reason wins by a nose. The symbol of that victory is the inventor Thomas Newcomen standing (rather like a cock crowing) atop the boiler of one of his first steam engines. This final volume in the cycle is another magnificent portrayal of an era, well worth the long slog it requires of Stephenson's many devoted readers.
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Stephenson, enjoying cult status for his 1999 novel Cryptonomicon
as well as the first two installments in a trilogy he calls the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver
[BKL S 1 03] and The Confusion
[BKL F 15 04]), brings the long-winded but compulsively readable series to its conclusion. All three volumes have been lengthy but also effective as the author delves deeply into European history in the late-seventeenth and early-nineteenth centuries, eras of great intellectual and political ferment. Daniel Waterhouse, who was introduced in the first volume, has come back to England from the American colonies to mediate a dispute between two scientists, Isaac Newton and Gottfried von Leibniz. Around this continuing struggle, which has a side story encompassing Newton's desire to find a time-bomb-armed criminal gang, led by his archenemy, a counterfeiter called the king of the vagabonds, swirls a larger arena of contention: the probably sooner rather than later death of Queen Anne and whether the Whigs or the Tories will dominate the court in the reign that follows. Obviously--given the book's length--details are profuse, but each detail speedily draws readers into the narrative rather than impeding it. The language, to correlate with the times in which the novel is set, is done in a stately but not overwrought style. Expect considerable demand. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved