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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Picaresque, but precise, leaves you hungry for more., 20 April 1999
By A Customer
Very "visual", scenic settings employed by Mr. Keyes, his episodic novels (Part One and Two) keep three, sometimes four plots together in a tight, page-turning, narrative. Dialog is somewhat more stiff, and a bit less plausible, but at least it doesn't get in the way. The characters very well delineated, Newton comes off as cantankerous, aloof, and obsessive as he probably was. Blackbeard is like every schoolboy's pirate fantasy. Some of the other characters, the Venetian Riva, for instance, seem to be drawn from life. There's message and moral here, too: all the classical stuff, hubris as the cause of downfall, redemption through love; oh yes, and Mr. Keyes seems to be making the historical point that the vaunted "Age of Reason" was not all it's cracked up to be in the history books, since if they had possessed a powerful science (like ourselves), they might have plunged the world into a deeper chaos than our much-abused 20th century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's the alchemal sign for fun?, 31 May 2005
By 
David Roy (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
A Calculus of Angels, the second book in the Age of Unreason series by J. Gregory Keyes, does exactly what a second book is supposed to do. It builds on the first book, giving us more insight into the greater problem that the series addresses, as well as moving all the characters forward. The alternate history that Keyes has built is fascinating stuff, much richer than the "what if World War II turned out differently" that many authors use. A Calculus of Angels is a wonderful mixture of sorcery, alchemy, and science. Keyes also adds a few more characters to the mix, making for a much deeper story.
We are a few years removed from when the great comet hit London and wiped out much of western Europe. Those in the Americas, not having heard anything from Europe in quite a while, are ready to join forces (French, English, and Native) to send an expedition to find out what is happening. Meanwhile, Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, is on the march to conquer what is left of Europe. Sir Isaac Newton and his young apprentice, Ben Franklin, are in Prague, attempting to figure out what is really going on. Adrienne, former lover of King Louis of France, is on the run from the remnants of the French nobility, all vying for what's left of the French throne. What spirits are using the world to fight their own war against humanity? Are these spirits religious in nature, servants of God? Or are they trying to fight everything that humanity holds dear? Who controls who? And will Peter be able to conquer everything in his path with the mysterious flying ships that he wields? All will come together in one city, one fatal encounter that could decide everything. And what does Adrienne's child have to do with all of this?
A Calculus of Angels is a much better book than Newton's Cannon, mainly for its broader scope. The first book was pretty narrow, concentrating mainly on Adrienne and Ben Franklin. This one covers a lot more ground. Ben and Adrienne are still prominent, and they get a lot of development, as Ben chafes under Newton's refusal to tell him what Newton is researching and Adrienne learns her place in this spiritual war that is going on. But Keyes gives us more storylines to follow as well. There is the expedition from the Americas to discover what is going on. This party gives us a wonderful character in the Choctaw shaman, Red Shoes. It also gives us Cotton Mather, Blackbeard (former pirate and now governor of a small colony) and the French governor of Louisiana, Bienville. It is through them that we see most of the devastation that covers Europe, especially Great Britain.
While Mather is a bit of a stereotypical religious figure, he does have his moments where he is surprising. The others aren't quite as well-drawn, though they serve their purposes well in supporting Red Shoes and getting him where he needs to be. Especially good is the scene where some of the ship's crew take Red Shoes for a night on the town, and he sees the deadness in the girl that is given to him, even as the others finish their night of debauchery. This highlights the other world that only he can see, and gives us a great bit of his character.
Probably the best scenes in the book, however, involve young Ben as he tries to make his way in Prague. Newton is being very uncooperative and Ben is trying to do his best to fit in. He is an intelligent young man himself, and he's invented many toys for the King to play with, but he knows that Newton's holding something back. The interplay between the two is wonderful, especially in their final scene together as Newton realizes just how much he's hurt Ben. Once Ben and the others leave Prague, it's not quite as interesting, and the scenes in Venice drag a little bit. Still, he's the most important character in the book, and he carries it well.
The only thing that really mars the book, and it's a small thing, is how everybody ends up in the same place at the same time. Considering the number of storylines that are going on, this stretches the coincidence just a little too much. Once they are all there, it makes for a riveting conclusion as Ben tries his best to outwit his opponents and survive himself. The ending is a bit predictable, but it leads into an epilogue that really makes you want to read the next book to see where the story goes from here.
One aspect of Newton's Cannon that I hated was the way Keyes began chapters in the middle of action and had the characters reflect back on what happened to catch the reader up. Keyes still does this occasionally, but it's not quite as noticeable this time. This really adds to the strength of the book, as the prose flows a lot better. The prose is rougher than it is in Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone series, but it's earlier in his career, so a bit more acceptable. Keyes has taken an interesting premise and spun half of a very interesting tale. I'm looking forward to the next one.
David Roy
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5.0 out of 5 stars a series that gets better with each volume, 28 Jun. 2004
By 
Joe Sherry (Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Book 2 of the Age of Unreason
"A Calculus of Angels" picks up two years after the events of "Newton's Cannon". To give a quick recap of what has happened before, this novel is set in the 18th Century, but one that is no longer recognizable as the 18th Century. Isaac Newton discovered something called philosopher's mercury, a substance that has allowed science to go into a entirely new direction and it truly did change the world. The heroes of our story are Ben Franklin, who is the apprentice of Isaac Newton, and Adrienne, a brilliant scientists struggling with the societal strictures of being a woman. Two years prior to "A Calculus of Angels" someone had called down a comet and destroyed London completely. There are forces in the world that are similar to Angels or Demons (depending on how you are looking at it) called the Malakim. They are part of the hidden powers that are permitting these wonderous scientific devices.
This brings us to the second novel (more or less). France no longer has a central authority after the death of Louis XIV. Tsar Peter the Great, of Russia, is marching his armies East to build an Empire. A delegation from the American Colonies is sailing to Europe to discover what happened (after the Comet hit, there were natural disasters and all contact with the continent ceased), and the delegation includes Cotton Mather, Blackbeard the Pirate, and a Choctaw named Red Shoes. Ben Franklin is in Prague trying to defend the city from an attack similar to the one that destroyed London, and he no longer trusts Isaac Newton. Adrienne is learning more of the Malakim and her journey takes her across Europe in into the circle of powerful men.
This is a difficult book to really describe because it is so complex. The series begun with a true history of our world, but with one event (Newton's discovery), it changed the entire landscape so that even while real men and women are in the novel, they are in entirely new situations that will shape the characters in ways that we could never have expected. While I enjoyed the first book, I feel this novel is where the series really begins to pick up. I had to force myself to keep going at times in "Newton's Cannon", but here I just wanted to keep reading to see what happens next (and also to figure out exactly what is really going on here). Greg Keyes does an excellent job of building this world and the strange twist on our own. I don't think that anyone should pick this one up before reading "Newton's Cannon", but I do feel that the quality has increased in the second book and I'm looking forward to reading book three (of four).
-Joe Sherry
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling Epic that can only top offKeyes's NEWTONS CANNON, 18 May 1999
By A Customer
THe novelwas great i couldn't put down I am a big tolkien fan i thought at first he wouldn't be a good writer i was proven wrong. i am waiting for the third book, When is it coming out anyway?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the first., 30 May 1999
By A Customer
Amazingly this book topped Newton's Cannon. It's slower to get going, but by the second Part you get drawn in deep. Much is revealed, as a the middle book of a series should do. It leaves you wanting more, more so than the first book did.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 22 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: A Calculus of Angels (Age of Unreason) (Paperback)
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A Calculus of Angels (Age of Unreason)
A Calculus of Angels (Age of Unreason) by Greg Keyes (Paperback - 1 Oct. 2004)
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