Marshall's Reviews > Quicksilver

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
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's review
May 24, 11

bookshelves: fiction, nongenre, historical-fiction
Read in May, 2011

It isn't really possible to review the volumes separately, so this applies to /The Baroque Cycle/ as a whole. And what a whole it is! -- a brilliant, erudite, and definitely baroque assemblage of literary clockwork. The first "book" of the first volume starts a bit scattered (and took me two tries a few months apart to get through), but by the third volume, all those scattered parts have resolved into intricate gears which were all working together all along. Which isn't to say that there aren't ornamental touches and elaborate set-pieces -- what baroque work would be complete without them? -- but those aspects are all entertaining in their own right.

This is the kind of novel where you can flip it open to almost any part and read something fascinating. The fact that all the parts work together as a whole is important, but that final whole itself is almost beside the point. While plot is interesting keeps things moving along, it provides no reason to rush, and instead encourages lingering in the texture of the world and characters the novel creates. At times the book seems to split almost into three: the novel of ideas and historical politics tracking Daniel, the historical spy novel tracking Eliza, and the swashbuckling adventure novel tracking Jack. In the hands of a lesser author this technique would be chancy, but Stephenson keeps us caring about all three characters and their troubles and drops interconnections between the three at just the right points to prevent it from all drifting too far apart.

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