As most of you know I read a book during the half hour or so before I go to work each workday morning. Since I only read about 30 minutes a day on it, I often take over a month to get one completed. Well...I also usually pick a "project" book to read...over a much longer period of time...even if takes a whole year. That means I will read a chapter or so here or there, perhaps a larger section, or whatever I feel like. I'll pick a book that is either very very long, or long and difficult. I just don't want to feel like I need to read it in a week so I rush through and can't absorb the whole thing.
So last year I selected the first volume of "The Baroque Cycle" Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson. I had never read Stephenson before but he has quite a reputation for deep, thoughtful writing; some would even say complicated. "The Baroque Cycle" is a set of three volumes and actually covers 8 novels. Quicksilver contained the first three. And yes, I did take the entire year to finish the volume although I did read each of the three novels just like I would read any other novel; i.e. not spread out over time.
So this year I continued with Volume 2: The Confusion. This volume can be...well...confusing in that the two novels contained therein take place simultaneously and are therefore presented at the same time as well. We read one chapter of "The Juncto" and then one of "Bonanza" and then back again. Really, it's not so confusing because the whole Volume 2 reads like one big novel. I started reading back in January and have taken my time getting through it.
Getting through it is a good way to put it actually. Had I tried to read this one start to finish I never would have made it. The story itself is engaging and the plots and subplots are intriguing. The characters are over-the-top and that makes them fun. There is some really good humor trickled throughout, mostly involving the situations the main characters get themselves in to. I would have preferred to see an index of all of the characters though. There are literally hundreds of them, many with obscure names, and I just couldn't keep track of who was who. The first volume did include such an index and I referred to it often.
The story itself revolves around two major characters (one for each novel) in and around the year 1689. Half Cocked Jack is the "King of the Vagabonds", truly a criminal mastermind in a happy-go-lucky sort of way. The other is Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, a sometime fianceer, sometime secret agent. They have adventures galore throughout 17th century Europe and all across the globe. But in the end I have to wonder if I am smart enough for this book. Mr Stephenson uses lots of words and phrases from other languages and even though the reader can usually get the gist from the context, it makes for some real effort on the part of the reader. That's OK and I don't shy away from smart reads but this book, as I found in the first volume, suffers from "too much." Too much plot, too many characters, and too much description. I felt like the author was spending as much time, and print, trying to impress me with his superior intellect as he did trying to entertain me. I love it when a novel teaches me something, be it facts or a new way of looking at things, but I have great difficulty when it becomes a chore to read a novel. I almost always finish a book that I start (even if it takes me a whole year) and I still plan to read the final volume next year.
So on the whole I would only recommend this series to those who like a more extreme reading challenge and have the time and energy to put into it. Not for the casual reader.