the baroque cycle: a love story

Jack Shaftoe does what he does for the love of a woman. That would be Eliza. Eliza doesn't love Jack, so she says. She hurled a harpoon at him once, which would have seemed to drive the point home (pardon the pun).

Daniel Waterhouse is not doing what he does for love. Or is he? Daniel's good friend, one Isaac Newton, is in trouble. Daniel hatches an elaborate plan to bail him out or perhaps get him killed, or both.

Neal Stephenson
loves to write long, immensely complex, brilliantly conceived and researched historical fiction novels. The baroque cycle comprises three, no make that four such novels. There are three volumes but the middle one, The Confusion, is actually two novels which are sewn together, con-fused.

The final volume, called The System of the World (the title is lifted from a pusthumously published Newton book) brings the tale to a close. It is a wonder to read. The amount of work involved, not only in terms of crafting a story and writing it down, but in researching the situations Stephenson creates simply staggers the mind. There are sentences in the book that must have required months to be able to knowledgeably write down. Of course, there's plenty that Stephenson made up, as he says himself in an afterword.

Even though well informed (an breathtaking understatement), the Baroque Cycle, and in particular this final entry, is anything but dry. It is as entertaining a work of fiction as you are likely to encounter in modern literature.

My wife is about ready to give up on the whole thing, she's most of the way through book one, Quicksilver, and the story has failed to interest her. I think that the end of the book will grab her though and she'll need to read the middle one to find out what happens. Then, of course, she'll have to read System to finish it off. In other words, this is not a book you read on its own. If you want to enjoy the System of the World, you'll need to slog through the whole cycle, but it's worth it.

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