After enjoying Quicksilver to such a degree, it was with eagerness that I plunged into Neal Stephenson's The Confusion. And I must admit that it's the perfect sequel.:-)
This one is a lot easier to read. Indeed, all the scientific issues that were so central to the first volume of The Baroque Cycle play a secondary role in this sequel. But as the title of the last volume of the series implies, those same scientific issues just might hold center stage in the next book. Hence, although Newton, Waterhouse, Leibniz and co. do have a role to play in the story, the main plot revolves more around Jack and Eliza. Which, in the end, is the reason why it makes The Confusion easier and more fun to read.
The scope of Stephenson's undertaking is once again bewildering. This book is as richly detailed as its predecessor, a testimony to the unbelievable amount of research that indubitably went into its creation. But as was the case with Quicksilver, it's the author's genius which shines through. Stephenson's work is a tour de force, blending scientific facts with fiction, incorporating notions on national and international commerce, throwing politics into the mix, rewriting history in the process; all with a sarcastic sense of humour that brings a smile on your face as you keep turning those pages.The Confusion is again a large book: 815 pages in hardcover. But the pace is much quicker than in the previous volume, which will somehow make it appear as if you're reading a short novel. Indeed, the ending, although quite satisfying, comes too rapidly.
It is another dense and erudite yarn. But it is also a grand adventure, always clever and often hilarious!;-)
Jack Shaftoe plays a much larger role in this one. And more Jack usually means more fun! We follow his adventures and misadventures, circumventing the entire globe before the book ends. As a matter of fact, we follow his exploits from the Barbary Coast, to Spain, to Egypt, to Yemen, to India, to Japan, to the Philippines, to New Spain, and all the way back to Europe. As you can expect, life is never boring when it comes to Half-cocked Jack. Thus will you see him play several disparate roles throughout his tribulations around the world: a slave, a pirate, a dubious sort of merchant, a sailor, a pawn, a prisoner, a king, a leader of man, etc, but always a scoundrel!;-)
As Jack and his cohort visit all those different and exotic locations, Stephenson's genius is once more apparent. Every little detail is present in the narration, from the historical and political perspectives all the way to to every nation's typical clothing and habits.
Eliza also plays a key role in this novel. With the grand conflict between France and England, she appears caught between the two nations. Playing both sides against the middle, and at times using her machinations to the benefit of one king or another, Eliza is gradually changing people's perceptions concerning commerce. Ideas begin to take shape, slowly bringing new and thought-provoking concepts into play, which will irrevocably alter the manner in which people perceive and do business.
Eliza is also becoming more and more of a tramp, however. One of her lovers hold a key position in Louis XIV's court, allowing her to work her "magic."
The ending promises a lot to come in the final volume, The System of the World. I just can't wait to read it!!:-) This one remains as ambitious, intoxicating, creative and thrilling as Quicksilver.
The final verdict: 9/10