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    Review of QUICKSILVER by Neal Stephenson (see his website)


    William Morrow, September 2003

    Review by Jennifer Vilches

    Daniel Waterhouse is summoned to return to Europe from Massachusetts to resolve a dispute between prominent mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. During his voyage, which is interrupted by pirates, he works on a chronicle of his past, which is set against a rich tapestry of religious, political and scientific revolutions. Daniel evolves from a young Puritan roommate of Isaac Newton to courtier and natural philosopher of the Royal Society.

    While Daniel follows the great scientific minds of the era, Jack Shaftoe, vagabond extraordinaire, careens through colorful misadventures all over Europe. He rescues the bright and beautiful Turkish slave Eliza from the siege of Vienna. Together, they travel across Europe to Amsterdam, home to the budding financial markets. Eliza's quest for fortune and revenge on her enslaver lead her deep into political plots and catapult her to Paris where she captures the attention of the King. Jack moves on in his adventures and attracts a different kind of attention altogether. As the fortunes of kings and countries rise and fall, the paths of our intrepid characters twist and cross over the vast scope of history.

    Do not expect this to be similar to Stephenson's cyber-punk novels. Quicksilver is not science fiction in the classic sense -- do not expect aliens, futuristic technology or time-travel. Quicksilver is historical fiction that takes place in the 17th and 18th centuries. Large portions of the book cover the birth of modern science and math. Other broad subject areas encompass European political intrigue, war and the development of financial markets. But this is no dry, tame history -- this is alive and kicking. Having read Stephenson's book Cryptonomicon adds an extra dimension of interest to reading Quicksilver, since the main characters are ancestors of the characters in Cryptonomicon. The one exception is Enoch Root who appears in both books and is apparently ageless.

    Quicksilver does not have a neat resolution, and contains a large amount of set up material -- it is very obviously the first book in the trilogy. It is also massive, and with two more massive books to follow, you need to be prepared to devote a serious amount of time to this series. Nobody can deny that Stephenson is wordy, but for such a long book, there weren't too many places where I found my attention wandering. Stephenson keeps things moving along even during some fairly detailed explanations of science or politics. He also plays around with different styles of writing, such as writing a chapter as if it was a period play. It gives a feel for the times as well as varying the pace.

    The three lead characters balance each other out nicely. Daniel can be a very passive character, which contrasts with Eliza's plotting and scheming. Just when the going gets too heavy, Jack provides physical action and comic relief. The main trio interact with an enormous cast of characters and one of the things I like best about Stephenson's writing is that he takes time to make even his secondary characters interesting.

    See more reviews of novels by Neal Stephenson.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 4/20/04

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