Second in "The Baroque Cycle" (or, the 4th and 5th books in it, to use Stephenson's reckoning).
I didn't find this to be a quick read.
Stephenson IS a good writer, and the book is really filled with interesting thoughts and turns of phrase. But it just doesn't move you along in the way an entertaining novel ought to - while at the same time being filled with a series of Most Unlikely events and coincidences, sprawling loosely here and there, flitting about the world, mixing historical fact with stereotypes and fiction.
In a way, it's too much about concept, I think. The characters are more Dickensian caricatures than "real" people. Overall, it seems to be trying to be a sort of adventure/thriller about finance and economics... and I don't feel it really worked as well as it could have.
Really well written and a bunch of fun...adventures of the 17th Century from England, France, Japan, India, etc. It goes all over the map with convulutions you won't believe. Now that I have read # 2 of the series I have requested the # 1 and will be looing for #3. I have just ordered new the #3 in this series...it will be up as soon as its read.
If you are a Neal Stephenson fan, you will love this series - very deep plots and great characters, set it the late 17th / early 18th century, mainly in western Europe, but with adventures all over the world.
From the back cover: In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves - including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack - devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues - a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver...nay, gold...nay, legendary gold. In Europe, the exquisite and resourceful Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, is stripped of her immense personal forturne by France's most dashing privateer. Penniless and at risk from those who desire either her or her head (or both), she is caught up in a web of international intrigue, even as she desperately seeks the return of her most precious possession. Meanwhile, Newton and Leibnez continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies, stubborn alchemy does battle with the natural sciences, dastardly plots are set in motion...and Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.