The world is a most confused and unsteady place – especially London, center of finance, innovation, and conspiracy – in the year 1714, when Daniel Waterhouse makes his less-than-triumphant return to England’s shores. Aging Puritan and Natural Philosopher, confidant of the high and mighty and contemporary of the most brilliant minds of the age, he has braved the merciless sea and an assault by the infamous pirate Blackbeard to help mend the rift between two adversarial geniuses at a princess’s behest. But while much has changed outwardly, the duplicity and danger that once drove Daniel to the American Colonies is still coin of the British realm.
No sooner has Daniel set foot on his homeland than he is embroiled in a dark conflict that has been raging in the shadows for decades. It is a secret war between the brilliant, enigmatic Master of the Mint and closet alchemist Isaac Newton and his archnemesis, the insidious counterfeiter Jack the Coiner, a.k.a. Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds. Hostilities are suddenly moving to a new and more volatile level, as Half-Cocked Jack plots a daring assault on the Tower itself, aiming for nothing less than the total corruption of Britain’s newborn monetary system.
Unbeknownst to all, it is love that set the Coiner on his traitorous course; the desperate need to protect the woman of his heart – the remarkable Eliza, Duchess of Arcachon-Qwghlm – from those who would destroy her should he fail. Meahwhile, Daniel Waterhouse and his Clubb of unlikely cronies comb the city and country for clues to the identity of the blackguard who is attempting to blow up Natural Philosophers with Infernal Devices – as political factions jockey for position while awaiting the impending death of the ailing queen; as the “holy grail” of alchemy, the key to life eternal, tantalizes and continues to elude Isaac Newton, yet is closer than he ever imagined; as the greatest technological innovation in history slowly takes shape in Waterhouse’s manufactory.
Everything that was will be changed forever.
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.
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.
Neal Stephenson is the author of The Baroque Trilogy (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System Of The World). His other books include Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Zodiac, as well as Cobweb and Interface, written in collaboration with Frederick George. Winner of the 2003 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Quicksilver, Stephenson was short listed for the same award in 2005 for The System Of The World. He lives in Seattle.
Book Dimension :
length: (cm)24.1 width:(cm)16.8