I cannot find words for how good The Confusion is. We still follow the people from Quicksilver as they strive to find their way in the chaotic world of the late 1600's and early 1700's. The themes are still money, piracy, sex, slavery, science, black magic, etc. and the cast is still comprised of vagabonds, galley slaves, scientists, royalty, soldiers, priests, alchymists and much, much more. The action goes (literally) round the world, to places like Egypt, India, Japan, the Philippines, all of Europe and, of course, Qwghlm, the fictional Island that also appears in Cryptonomicon.
I am in awe of how many themes are woven together in this book, and of the amount of research it must have taken. I have never had any sense of what the rennaisance was like, and suddenly the 1600's seem real and present to me. I've done some fact-checking in Wikipedia, and it only serves to expand and deepen the picture that Stephenson paints of that period.
The ending is just about the funniest, saddest, most satisfying, most intriguing and most annoying thing I've ever read. And I can't wait to read the final book in the series which is The System of the World.
A word of caution: These books are subtle. Much of the actions is hinted at rather than described explicitly. Once you get the hang of it, it is immensely satisfying to read.
on 5 April 2004
This novel has everything; humour, adventure, intrigue, sex and naval warfare! It's all extremely well written with excellent dialogue and a cast of characters that will split your sides with laughter (my particular favourite was a Spanish nobleman galley slave with Tourette's syndrome…….).If you haven’t read Quicksilver, buy it together with this one and be prepared for a literary feast!
on 16 February 2005
Cryptonomicon was astounding. Weaving together multiple periods in time isn't a new idea but in the right hands it is a powerful tool.
Quicksilver, a massively-pre prequel, was almost as good. A huge book, a real epic, but you're forever stuck with idea that the sheer good fortune of our central characters - just how lucky did Jack, Eliza and Daniel have to be in order to mix with the factual people they did - was a little bit too much. But you were having so much fun, you gave Stephenson more slack.
And so the sequence rolls on - The Confusion will be just that if you've not read Quicksilver (which itself was probably better if you'd read Cryptonomicon). It's a huge endeavour - it took me an age to finish it, and while it starts slowly it's a real slow burner. By the end you'll be as gripped as with the best cinematic thriller.
It's a subtle read, you really do need to pay close attention (or to have access to the Megaweb wiki to look up those previous threads) or you'll lose track completely, but ultimately it is worth it.
on 6 October 2015
I imagine Stephenson knows the origin of the the word perfectly well, and is only too happy to think of his cycle in that way. Concerning this second book, when I was doing my PhD I often needed to analyse the ceramics I was making by heating them up with a material called Fusion Mixture. The results were all too often difficult to interpret, so I scrawled "Con" on the bottle before "Fusion". But of course that was the original meaning of the word "Confusion": simply "melting together" - the sort of insight you keep on getting from Neal Stephenson, and he does a lot of melting together in this volume. Anyway, a great follow up to "Quicksiver", if anything less confusing, and it also makes sense of some of the puzzling bits of "Cryptonomicon", but as other reviewers point out, you would certainly need to read the Baroque Cycle in the correct order, for your brains would melt if you didn't. Looking forward to "The System of the World".
on 14 July 2004
The Confusion is aptly named. the first 50 or so pages seemed like Stephenson had planned three books and perhaps rushed out the second a little too quickly. I then had to revise this opinion. In places it doesn't manage to equal Quicksilver but perhaps some of that is due to the originality of the latter. Many of the same characters return, including Shaftoe, Eliza and Waterman. These characters development into more human figures as the book progresses with Shaftoe learning a degree of humility, Eliza a bit more compassion and Waterman becomes more endearing. The plot is quite complex which is what we'd expect from Stephenson; it doesn't disappoint. Newton and Leibnitz periodically appear and teach those of us ignorant of such matters a smattering of Science history and good pub trivia (if only pubs had geometry and similar subjects in their quizes).
The book is absorbing the characters often delightful. Intrigue and action co-exist with passion, compassion and human frailties. It ends gripingly. Buy it. Now. Go on you know you want to.
After reading "The Confusion" I had to go back and read "Cryptonomicon" to confirm what I suspected - these books don't just feature different generations of the same families, they are building into a coherent and (I hope) complete story. There are, for example, passing references in "Cryptonomicon" that only make sense in the light of "Confusion". I'm looking forward to the treat of reading "System of the World" where I hope I will find the final answers - in particular, who (or what) is Enoch Root?
But then I'll probably have to go back and read "Quicksilver" again to get the full picture.
Anyway - an excellent series, taken together.
on 18 March 2013
I had read Quicksilver previously and found that I started that book with keen interest but that it sapped the life out of me towards the end and i gave up with a few chapters to go.
This book is of a similar nature in that it tries to combine several books in one and each book contains many additional stories and characters with their full family life histories, in many cases. I am reading it in installments with other more terse and exciting books in between to keep my interest and renew my enjoyment of reading.
on 24 June 2016
This second novel in the Baroque Cycle consists of two books taking place roughly over the same period of time. They are therefore fused together, with sections alternating between the two, hence the title.
Bonanza regales the adventures of Jack Shaftoe after he left Amsterdam and Eliza. We follow him through his ordeal as a galley slave to the Turks. With his wits returning to him, he forms a collaboration with several other slaves to free themselves and capture the contents of a certain ship from a Spanish harbour. This leads to them travelling around the Mediterranean before venturing further east to an area then known as Hindoostan. Eventually they even cross the Pacific and end up in Mexico, before making the trip across the Atlantic, back to Europe.
Juncta covers a similar time period, but focuses mainly on Eliza and her interactions at various European courts and with scientists. Through a series of events, Eliza finds herself on the receiving end of the affections of Etienne de Lavardac, son of de Duc d’Arcachon. Using her cunning wits and tempting looks, Eliza manages to advance herself in society, obtaining the services of various men when they are of use to her. She is a strong, independent personality, who recognizes her worth but also realizes that, as a woman, she will sometimes need the assistance of a man.
The result is an intricate weaving of storylines which are all interconnected. Backgrounds and settings are described quite elaborately, but they do serve the story, so do not become tiresome. Effects of prolonged sea travel are explained in vivid detail, adding realism to the sometimes fantastic tale.
Due to the complexity of the narrative, I recommend reading this with a clear and attentive mind, so as to not become confused yourself. Alliances are formed and broken at a fast pace, which may be difficult to keep track of if one isn’t paying attention.
While Jack and Eliza are fictional characters, as is the homeland of Eliza (Qwghlm) many characters in the book are historical. Some creative liberties will have been taken regarding relationships and involvement in various plots, but it is very interesting to read up on these persons at some point in the reading process.
I do wonder, though: did Eliza seduce Etienne because she knew who his father was, or did she find out after she had entangled him? The end result is the same, but I do wonder about her motivations for this seduction.
Also the apparent betrayal of Eliza through Jack by the Duchesse d’Oyonnax; did the duchess intend to inadvertently affect Eliza with her plotting, or was she collateral damage?
Perhaps these things will be further clarified in the third novel of the cycle.
Confusion, the second volume in this massive epic trilogy, continues to use characters, both real and fictitious,to drive the action across many countries/cultures/civilisations, and across over two and a half thousand pages by the end of Vol 3. Apart from real characters such as Isaac Newton, King Louis of France, Leibnitz in Germany, Stephenson uses Vagabond Jack and Countess Eliza, two incredibly alive and believable 'soldiers of fortune' and survivors of the murky 17th & 18th century, who serve to guide the reader through the arcane cultures and political tightrope necessary for survival in these turbulent times. By contrast, Daniel Waterhouse, another fictional character gives an insight into the scientific search for knowledge within the 'Royal Society' in London, including the magical lure of alchemy.
This novel, like the trilogy, is packed with historical fact, brilliantly realised detail and invention, and tremendous action sequences. Stephenson manages his wealth of material, so that the narrative has a 'thriller quality' to it, to sustain even the half-awake mind. This is densely-packed stuff, which might not suit those who don't wish to put in the effort required to enable this fascinating world to come alive, but the rewards for a little engagment are substantial: after a while the reader feels they are walking through these dangerous, uncertain and fascinating times, which make up the Renaissance world. A stunning piece of writing, if you give it the attention it requires. I've read masses in my life, but this has to be one of the best pieces of detailed and sustained 'worlds' ever created.
on 8 February 2010
I am entirely perplexed by this trilogy! Usually by the time I have read the first book in a trilogy - let alone the second - I know well whether I am intending to keep the series for an indulgent re-read in the future. After reading the first book, I had been intrigued enough to read the second but felt that overall I would be discarding the series.
What a difference a book makes! Over the course of this second book, I found myself musing on the story even while I was not reading about the continued adventures of Eliza and Jack. This book is reward for struggling through the first, which was enormously dense and detailed.
The book is shared between Eliza (Juncto) and Jack (Bonanza), their stories intertwining. We find Jack alive and well, and free from the French pox (syphilis). He has been captured by Barbary pirates and his tale involves a convoluted plot between him and other members of the Cabal - to capture a shipment of gold that will lead to their fortunes being made. His story leads him across the world - through the Far East and finally taking a dangerous trip to Acapulco. The capture of the gold has massive repercussions across the world, affecting many including Eliza, who starts her story being waylaid by Jean Bart and carried back to France, where she once again begins manipulating trade.
This time both stories are equally gripping for one reason or another, and the skipping between both allows Stephenson to develop two different tones - the formal, slow burning plot of Eliza and the swashbuckling adventures of Jack Shaftoe.
Many, many characters take centre stage here and become beloved to the reader over the course of 800 pages. Obviously Jack and Eliza will have the attention of the reader, but there is also Leibniz (the dignified and friendly Natural Philosopher who has befriended Eliza from the beginning); Bob Shaftoe (brother of Jack, more upright and stolid); Princess Caroline (beautiful and fiercely intelligent); and the many entertaining members of the Cabal.
We also see the beginnings of Minerva - the ship that is carrying Daniel Waterhouse back to England at the start of the first book in the trilogy - and meet her captain van Hoek (a Dutch captain who feels the need to shed body parts when in gravest danger).
Altogether I am being overwhelmed gradually by the trilogy of books, and can find much to love about them. On the flipside, the writing is still inpenetrable at times and leaves me feeling confused as to what is actually occuring. At times the pacing of the story is woeful - leaving spells where I actually avoid picking up the book, although curiosity in the fates of Jack and Eliza always brings me back.
I would tentatively recommend this book to everyone I know - with the proviso that it is still not *easy* reading (and that they have to suffer through book one to reach the heights of book two).