Quicksilver, Book 2 “King of the Vagabonds” by Neal Stephenson

I did finish Book 2 of Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver a few days ago, and then plunged ahead to book 3, which I’m frantically trying to finish by tomorrow, thus the lack of blog postage lately. And so, this’ll be quick.

Book 2 finds us in the company of Jack Shaftoe, a London urchin who, along with his brother Bob, hangs on the legs of hanged men to help them die more swiftly. They had procured payment previously, of course. Bob grows up to be a military man; Jack becomes the vagabond of the title. During a mercenary stint taking Vienna from the Turks, Jack manages to rescue a pretty harem girl and a good horse. Eliza is the girl, and she was sold into slavery after being kidnapped with her mother from the shores of Qwghlm (familiar to those who’ve read Cryptonomicon) by a Bad Man who dines on rotten fish. Eliza has sworn revenge on him, and vows to end all slavery.

Jack and Eliza make a good team. He teaches her about thieving, and she teaches him about subtle trickery. She becomes expert at financial markets, and they travel to Amsterdam and Paris, encountering Natural Philosophers like Leibniz along the way. But as Eliza becomes more savvy by the day, Jack slowly goes mad from syphilis. They meet up in Amsterdam, only to part acrimoniously, and then befall two different and very bad fates.

Jack and Eliza’s story is much more of a romp than was Daniel Waterhouse’s in Book 1. This is swashbuckling adventure, with some science, finance, and math thrown in for good measure. Heady stuff, indeed.

Things I looked up:

Huguenot is pronounced in French: [yɡno]; in English: /ˈhjuːɡənɒt/, or /huːɡəˈnoʊ/.

One of Jack’s nicknames, L’Emmerdeur, is vulgur slang for “pain in the ass.” Or arse, since he’s English.

Thus far, I’m very much enjoying my summer reading choice, even if it does make my purse quite heavy to tote around.

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