Should the publisher have printed King of the Vagabonds separately? Sure, why not? Where they missed was in not clearly labelling it for those of us who bought Quicksilver, in which this book is contained as the second part. Readers felt ripped-off when they purchased a book they'd already read, and that's understandable. But the blame goes to the marketing department of the publisher, not to Neal Stephenson, who wrote an incredibly fascinating and diverse portrait of the world at the time when knowledge was first beinging to replace belief; when science emerged out of religion; when the world as we know it now was first being born. And it is an amazing accomplishment--for a second, just say out loud that someone could make a best-seller out of an eight volume series about the acrimony between Newton and Leibnitz over the discovery of the calculus, about the necessity of a stable currency, about the birth of 'natural philosophy', about the beginnings of cryptography; and that they'd be able to put in a grand showdown between alchemists and pirates--it sounds absurd, doesn't it? But Stephenson carrys it off magnificently.
This particular volume (yes, it IS the second book of the large volume Quicksilver--if your Quicksilver is divided into three books, you've read it; if your Quicksliver ends with Watterson escaping from pirates, you haven't and it's safe to buy) is a complete and shocking contrast to the first book in the series. That book was about the birth of science, it was very intellectual with little action and focussed mainly on the characters of Daniel Waterhouse and Issac Newton. King of the Vagabonds could not be more different--none of the characters in the first book appear (and I kept waiting for them to do so), none of the action overlaps, and the themes are completely different. Where Quicksilver (the book, not the volume) was about ideas, King of the Vagabonds is about action. It's pirates and gypsies and fighting and cavorting mostly through continental Europe. Not until the next volume (Odalesque) will any of the characters from the first two books meet, and then only incidentally. The big confrontations come much later, so don't expect it now.
I throughly loved The Baroque Cycle, as did my 20 year old son. It's definitely not for everyone, but if you are interested in ideas, if you enjoy the detailed portrayal of times and places other than our own, you might love it as much as we did. I was only sorry it was only 8 volumes.