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Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Quicksilver

Categories: [ Books ]

ISBN: 9780099410683

© Amazon.fr

First volume of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson, divided into three books.

Quicksilver

1713. Daniel Waterhouse is convinced by Enoch Root to leave Massachussets and return to England to defuse a conflict between supporters of Leibnitz and those of Newton as who invented calculus. While his ship is under attack by pirates, trying to leave the coasts of Massachusets, Daniel remembers his youth from 1661 to 1673. Daniel has met Isaac Newton at Cambridge and, while Newton was completely absorbed by his research, prevented him from dying by forcing him to eat and sleep. During the Plague, he fled to the countryside where he met members of the Royal Society and studied with them on various topics. Later he returned to Cambridge, became a Doctor and a fellow of the Royal Society. Daniel witnessed or was involeved in several political plots during this period: he was delivering mail from Huygens to Henri Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society for foreign correspondonance and prisoner at the Tower of London under suspicion of exchanging by means of these letters secret messages with foreign states; the Comstock family was supplying the English Navy with cannons and powder, and was discredited and ruined after cannons exploded because they were loaded with pre-packed powder that was ground too fine (the bad powder was planted by a political rival); the creation of the Bank of England, independent from the King, after the latter ruined several goldmiths by taking the gold entrusted to them by their customers. In the background, there were wars between England and the Dutch who were allied to France during the first war, but since King Charles II is suspected to be a catholic pretending to be anglican, England was allied to France in the second one.

King of the Vagabonds

1683. Jack Shaftoe is a Vagabond, occupying himself by being a footman in the army of Poland-Lithuania, going to attack the Turks who are assieging Vienna. While all the fighting is done by the cavalry, Jack saves Eliza, a yound Qwghlmian woman who is a slave in the the harem of the Grand Turk. Together they travel through Europe to Leipzig where they meet Leibniz, and eventually arrive in Amsterdam where Eliza shows great skill at investing the stock market. This sedentary life doesn't suit Jack who travels to Paris to deliver a letter from Eliza to a banker. Jack then tries to make money for himself by selling ostrich feathers and his horse, both stolen from the Turks at the siege of Vienna, but is instead taken prisoner by the Duc d'Arcachon. John Churchill, for whom Jack and his brother Bob had been couriers earlier in their life, helps him escape to prevent Jack from inadvertantly telling things about Churchill when being tortured. Jack thus escapes and accidentally discovers that d'Arcachon is the eater of rotten fish who had taken Eliza and her mother as slaves many years ago. Meanwhile, Eliza is introduced to the the court of the King William of Orange by d'Avaux, the French ambassador. With another Englishman, they plot to influence the market and make a lot of money. On his way back to Amsterdam, Jack becomes partner in a business operation, which was promised to make him rich. But when he sees Eliza again and tells her about it, she understands that the operation is a slave trade. Since Jack wants to continue with the operation because he invested all he had in it and doesn't want to depend on Eliza's money, she tells him she doesn't want to see him ever again. Jack's ship leaves Amsterdam, but Jack is made prisoner by pirates near Africa and becomes a slave himself. Eliza leaves for Versailles to become a spy for d'Avaux at the court of King Louis XIV, but on the boat she is convinced by William of Orange, an ennemy of Louis XIV, to become his spy in exchange for the title of Duchess of Qwghlm when he becomes king of England.

Odalisque

1685. Eliza is working as a governess for some noble at Versailles, and reporting to d'Avaux, d'Orange and Leibniz. In London, Daniel Waterhouse witnesses the death of Charles II. The next king is James II, openly a catholic. Since Eliza is handling the money of many French nobles, she becomes slowly more important at the court. She travels from time to time to Amsterdam, where she meets William of Orange and lives at Huygens's house. There she meets Bob Shaftoe who wants her to help him recover a protestant girl he fell in love with and who has been sold as a slave to an English noble, now Chief Justice of the King. In 1687, Daniel travels to Amsterdam to meet William of Orange, the so-called Defender of the Protestants, and prepare what will be later called the Glorious Revolution i.e., William of Orange becoming King of England without bloodshed. Daniel also meets Eliza during a dinner at Huygens's house. The next morning they prevent the abduction of William by French dragoons, a plot that was rumored about in various circles. Back to Versailles, Eliza is made Countess de la Zeur by the King. Daniel on the other hand is threatened by catholic nobles (including the Chief Justice) and eventually made prisoner at the Tower of London and awaiting to be assassinated (since he cannot officially be tried). But Daniel is protected by Bob Shaftoe, who happens to replace the guard at the Tower. Meanwhile, Eliza is fleeing Versailles with the help of Liselotte von der Pfalz, sister in law to Louis XIV, motivated by the fact that the king is invading her country. After being arrested by French troops in Lorraine, Eliza sleeps with the son of d'Arcachon who is leading those troops and eventually reaches Amsterdam and Hyugens's house. The story of her journey is known to Louis XIV because Eliza kept an enciphered diary which was stolen a Huygens's house and decrypted by Bonaventure Rossignol, cryptanalyst of the king. In 1688, James II flees London and William of Orange becomes the new King of England. Daniel and Bob get the Chief Justice, who also fled from London, to get lynched by a crowd for the exactions he had commited on the people many years earlier. Finally, Eliza gives birth to a son in Amsterdam. D'Arcachon believes the baby is his (and since d'Arcachon carries a genetic defect, he is eager to get his hands on a son that hasn't got this defect) and tries to steal it but fails. But in a letter to Leibniz, Eliza tells that the father is really Rossignol, whom she had met in Versailles and happened to be in Lorraine while she was there.

[ Posted on October 19th, 2010 at 22:33 | no comment | ]