King of the Vagabonds : Baroque Cycle

  • by Neal Stephenson
  • Narrated by Simon Prebble, Kevin Pariseau, Neal Stephenson (introduction)
  • Series: Baroque Cycle
  • 11 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of “Half-Cocked Jack” Shaftoe – London street urchin turned legendary swashbuckling adventurer – risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox – and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the newborn power of finance.
The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson’s award-winning series, spans the late 17th and early 18th centuries, combining history, adventure, science, invention, piracy, and alchemy into one sweeping tale. It is a gloriously rich, entertaining, and endlessly inventive historical epic populated by the likes of Isaac Newton, William of Orange, Benjamin Franklin, and King Louis XIV, along with some of the most inventive literary characters in modern fiction.
Audible’s complete and unabridged presentation of The Baroque Cycle was produced in cooperation with Neal Stephenson. Each volume includes an exclusive introduction read by the author.


What the Critics Say

“Bawdy, learned, hilarious, and utterly compelling, [it] is sprawling to the point of insanity and resoundingly, joyously good.” (Times of London)
“Thrillingly clever, suspenseful, and amusing.” (New York Times Book Review)
"Most tales of 'olde' times are replete with castles, robed lords and ladies, and handsome men on horseback. But what about the wretches they pass on the side of the road as they go off to a lively joust? is about those men, the poor, the grifters, whose names are lost to history—the vagabonds. Stephenson's novel tells their story, with the able help of storyteller Simon Prebble. Prebble's witty banter is perfect as the voice of Jack, a knave who is out to prove that even a lowborn can succeed in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Prebble even does a great job with the historical characters such as Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, and others. Equal parts action and adventure, along with a healthy dose of humor, make this a great listen." (AudioFile)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Less Math Fiction, More Action

This book, although about Half-Cock Jack (no, that is not "half-cocked"), is really a bridge between Book 1 and 3. Jack finds Eliza at the siege of Vienna, and by the end of the book you start to realize that Eliza is going to be more of a character than Jack will.

Book 1 showed the scientists and mathematicians, and their noble patrons, while this story shifts focus on the poor. So there are vagabonds, soldiers, miners, Satanists, Turks, hareems, the oddities and intrigues of nobles, spies, diplomats, early modern capitalism and more. The action is definitely higher than in book 1. Better yet, Neal Stephenson doesn't shift gears back and forth in time anywhere near as much (or so it seems) as in Book 1, so it is much easier to follow, especially if you are doing something else.

The section on early modern capitalism - focusing mainly on the trading center in Amsterdam - is very interesting. Well worth sitting still and listening to that section. The section in which Jack gets entangled with the Satanists is a bit hard to follow, requiring you slow down and pay attention. All in all a number of "laugh out loud" moments, which makes this yarn a rollicking one. One cautionary note, however: this book is a little more sexually oriented than Book 1, so if you are listening in the car with others - especially children - you are going to have to turn it off unless you want to answer a lot of interesting questions.

The narrator, Simon Prebble, shows that the range of his voices is even greater than in Book 1, and continues to keep me engaged.. Hey, you got through Book 1, and if you ignored the reviews there and listened anyway - and found it interesting - trust me that you will enjoy this one too.
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- Dale Hurtt

Fun, action packed and nontheless interesting

In Book 2 of The Baroque Cycle is set in the same time period as Book 1, but concerns an entirely different set of characters and wholly different viewpoint than Book 1. The protagonist is Jack, a vagabond, a perfect rouge who could only be compared to the likes of Falstaff or Harry Flashman. Jack sees an entirely different view of the late 17th century than that provided by the moneyed, puritan of Book 1. This is a London where enterprising young boys can make money by clinging to the legs of hanging men (to hasten their deaths), a Paris where the rat catcher is a man of great influence and an Amsterdam so incredibly rich and free from petty corruption that a man like Jack can hardly find a place for himself. This is a viewpoint rarely found in historical novels, that of the least regarded, the poor, peasants, vagabonds, wretches, slaves, and prostitutes. In this book, Stephenson also introduces his most compelling female character. An intelligent, capable and witty young woman, sold into slavery at a young age and determined to both succeed and to gain her revenge. This volume is much more focused on fun, adventure and humor than Book 1. Nonetheless it is brimming with descriptions of the social, political, religious and commercial changes that were transforming Europe at that time.

I strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Stephenson or good historical novels.
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- Michael L

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-10-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios