Clif Hostetler's Reviews > King of the Vagabonds

King of the Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson
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Jun 18, 11

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read from June 13 to 18, 2011

This is the second book of the eight book Baroque Cycle. Most of this story takes place on mainland Europe in the 1680s. I find this time period interesting because it was the beginning of the modern world. The previous book in the series, Quicksilver, described the birth of modern science. This book describes the beginning development of modern business and commerce.

This book is somewhat unique among historical novels in that it's main characters, Jack Shaftoe and Eliza, are lowborn and not from the rich or noble classes. Even though they are poor commoners, through industrious endeavors on their part they are able to encounter numerous important historical characters. The reader of this book receives a down and dirty description of the 1683 siege of Vienna, experiences some extended conversations with the mathematician philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, reads a description of affairs involving Duke of Monmouth and William of Orange (pretender and future king respectively of England), laughs at a story of accidental impersonation of Louis XIV of France at a costume party, is introduced to 17th century trading in financial instruments, and gets a look at behind the scene politics leading up to the ascendancy of William and Mary to the throne of England.

The story is a comprehensive historical fiction about the great events going on at this time in history. The book provides incredibly detailed descriptions of the life and times. The descriptions include plenty of unpleasant things including manure and odors (e.g. Jack smells Paris a day prior to arriving.)

I listened to the audio book version and was treated to authentic sounding Cockney, French, German and Dutch accents. The Jack character had his own voice that oozed of easy going swagger. The witty repartee between Jack and Eliza provides much entertainment for the reader/listener.

I presume most readers will find the end of the book less than satisfactory. It is a conclusion of sorts, but I can't say much more without being a spoiler. The lack of a happy and climactic conclusion shouldn't be too surprising since the book is part of a longer series. I am looking forward to seeing how/if the diverse story lines converge.

LINK TO Wikipedia article about the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Quick Silver (Bk. 1) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Odalisque (Bk. 3) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of The Confusion (Bks. 4 & 5) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Solomon's Gold (Bk. 6) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of Currency (Bk. 7) by Neal Stephenson.
LINK TO my review of System of the World (Bk. 8) by Neal Stephenson.
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