Book Review – Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

The blurb educates:

Quicksilver is the story of Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and conflicted Puritan, pursuing knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe, in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight.

It is a chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of “Half-Cocked Jack” Shaftoe — London street urchin turned swashbuckling adventurer and legendary King of the Vagabonds — risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox.

And it is the tale of Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent Europe through the newborn power of finance.

In my experience, Neal Stephenson’s books are very long but very well written.  They often have long stretches where it seems like the author is trying to educate the reader so that they understand concepts later in the book.  This book is very much like that on all counts.

Unfortunately the difference between a book where this worked well (e.g. Anathem) and this one is that in this book there is no payoff.  There’s a bunch of “teaching the reader” but there’s no real reason for the reader to need to learn those things.  It’s not really clear what the book is about – a lot of things happen, but it’s in the form of the history of the countries and personal history of the characters involved – there doesn’t seem to be a moral or climax.

It’s not even clear who the main character is, or if there even is one.  The story switches between characters and times, new characters are added and old characters fall out of the story.

Part of this may be because this is the first book in a trilogy, so it could be given the benefit of the doubt.  I guess I’ll find out when I read the next two books in the series.

One of the best parts of the book is how it follows the events of history, allowing you to see things as they happened.  I don’t know a lot about this period of history, so it’s hard for me to tell what’s historically accurate and what’s fiction, but it was really interesting.