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It’s not often that I like a book so much I want to read it over again. With trilogies, it has only happened once before (Lord of the Rings, of course). With really long books, once is always enough (2666). But this Baroque Cycle was simply so astonishingly good, the characters so real, the story so compelling, that I would begin it again tomorrow if I didn’t have two book club books waiting for me and 50 others on my nightstand.
I don’t know how Stephenson managed to sustain the great writing across the nearly 3,000 pages in this series, but he did, right through to the very end. I will mention just two passages that struck me as the best ever in their category: the best sex scene ever, and the best duel ever.
The seduction of Daniel Waterhouse on the Roman chariot in the shadow of the fake volcano is surely the best sex scene ever written. Here is a short excerpt:
“Tilt your pelvis the other way, if you please, sir. There, much better, you’ll admit! Now, leave the rest to me, sir. The balance of this chariot can be a bit tricky. The ride a bit rough.” Indeed, the axle bearings of the chariot of Vulcan presently began to creak as it got to rocking forward and back, forward and back on its wheels. Daniel was old and the ride was correspondingly long but the primo mobile—the body of Miss Barton—was young and as everyone in London agreed, in the most superb condition, and more than equal to the work.
The duel using cannons between Charles White and Dappa, written in Stephenson’s typical hyper-detailed mode, poked a hole the size of a howitzer in the swashbuckling genre and drove right through it. I have seldom laughed so hard while reading. Sheer genius!!
I cannot fail to once again note the SUPERB narration provided by Simon Prebble on the audio book. He gave each character a distinct voice and allowed all the humor to shine through. Listening to Mr. Prebble’s performance is undoubtedly the best way to experience the Baroque Cycle.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Where does The System of the World rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Among the top 5. It's really that good.
Who was your favorite character and why?
I love so many of the, but most of all I love Jack. Even when facing certain doom he has a ridiculously unfeasible plan.
Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
Yes in the other Baroque Cycle novels, and this one is right up there.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
There were several but I'm not spoiling ANYTHING in this review so read it yourself!
Any additional comments?
This book isn't really a book all its own, but a conclusion to a long series that is actually three volumes of the same book. DO NOT START WITH THIS ONE! These books really need to be read in order or you won't have a clue as to what's going on.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
This final part is a satisfying completion of the Baroque Cycle and a fitting climax to its ingenious narrative. The last three parts stand together and are I think the best parts of the book for the unrelenting pace of narration and depth of historical detail; but the final part is darker- much of it set in prisons, madhouses or sewers. Jack, our much loved hero, is caught, tried for treason and condemned to the ultimate penalty of being hanged, drawn and quartered. We take a final guided tour of the streets of London with the condemned on the route to Tyburn Hill and the gallows tree. There seems to be no hope of escape as time runs out and every possibility is exhausted. Stephenson turns the screw and keeps us guessing to the very end.
I bid a sad farewell to Jack, to Eliza, Daniel, and all the others who now seem so real to me. After this magnificent feast for the mind, where do I go now to feed my imagination? Perhaps I will assay Stephenson?s Cryptonomicon, another suitably roomy tome in which I can expect to renew my acquaintance with an old friend.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Having listened to all eight books now, I must say a hearty thanks for this experience. Most of the history is accurate, some fanciful but the story works in such a way as to pull you through the cauldron of late 17th century Europe, around the world and back to the beginning of the modern period and the first stirrings of industry.