I admit Stephenson, aong with James Ellroy, is one of the few authors I buy as soon as a new book is released. I've enjoyed every book he's written, even his earlier stuff such as The Big U where he was crafting his trade. Cryptonomicon is a fantastic read which goes flying off on tangents such as cryptography, politics of the Phillipines, dot com business and the perfect way to eat breakfast cereal. As a result, I waited with bated breath for Quicksilver.
I was not disappointed. Set in the reigns of Charles II, James I (of England, if you're Scottish) and William and Mary, it traces the lives of Daniel Waterhouse, Bob and Jack Shaftoe and Eliza, a freed Turkish slave. Walk-on parts go to Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebniz, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Christiaan Huygens, Samuel Pepys, Judge Jeffreys, Christopher Wren and John Churchill, to name but a few.
As in his other books, there are several stories going on at once, which he moves between regularly, but there is an underlying central theme involving the politics of Europe in that era. I read the book once and immediately read it again, the second time picking up the classic Stephenson detail about the creation of the banking system, the Puritan movement, the gigantic scientific strides taken in the period and the intrigues which took place in the courts of England, France and the Netherlands. It is not surprising Stephenson takes so long between books as the research he does in diverse subjects is enormous. For instance, he has clearly studied Winston Churchill's biography of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, which is a humungous collection of letters, etc covering the period that could have been converted into a novel on its own. But this would have covered perhaps 10% of what this story is about.
His writing style is very clear and his use of English (as spoken at the time in England) does not cause problems with understanding. The characters are all fully rounded and their actions and reactions are plausible.
As with many of his fans, I have problems with the ends of some of Stephenson's books (for his explanation, see his webpage). This book, neatly gets over this by being the first in a trilogy and leaves you with a cliffhanger which forces you to buy the next in the series (not that I object).
In summary, Cryptonomicon this is not although it has been cited as a prequel. There are several names mentiones which appear in Cryptonomicon also and there is reference to cryptography, although this does not feature as a major factor as it did before (however there is a thread in the story which plays on the breaking of a cypher). The second part of this trilogy is out in UK next week, and I for one will be getting hold of a copy as soon as possible.