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King of the Vagabonds

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A chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe -- London street urchin-turned-legendary swashbuckling adventurer -- risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox. . . and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the A chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe -- London street urchin-turned-legendary swashbuckling adventurer -- risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox. . . and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the newborn power of finance. --back cover


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A chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe -- London street urchin-turned-legendary swashbuckling adventurer -- risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox. . . and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the A chronicle of the breathtaking exploits of "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe -- London street urchin-turned-legendary swashbuckling adventurer -- risking life and limb for fortune and love while slowly maddening from the pox. . . and Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem to become spy, confidante, and pawn of royals in order to reinvent a contentious continent through the newborn power of finance. --back cover

30 review for King of the Vagabonds

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Part two of the first Cycle takes a huge departure from the first book that mainly revolved around science and a richly detailed England to follow Jack, the self-styled King of the Vagabonds in this traveling adventure around all of Europe in the late sixteen-hundreds. Include spies, a huge political intrigue, hanging out with all the lower sorts, and enough scrapes, tosses, and near-death experiences for any taste. Jack doesn't really have the ear of anyone, let alone a king, but what he does ha Part two of the first Cycle takes a huge departure from the first book that mainly revolved around science and a richly detailed England to follow Jack, the self-styled King of the Vagabonds in this traveling adventure around all of Europe in the late sixteen-hundreds. Include spies, a huge political intrigue, hanging out with all the lower sorts, and enough scrapes, tosses, and near-death experiences for any taste. Jack doesn't really have the ear of anyone, let alone a king, but what he does have is a talent for getting into the biggest messes. What makes this special is not only the characters, which are a serious hoot but the amount of research and a perfect inclusion of real history and events on a scale I've never before seen. This might as well be a Masters course in history if it hadn't been written so excitingly and humorously. I think I might have enjoyed this one even more than the first book in the Cycle, but only in terms of pure adventure and sneakily introduced economics, medicine, and a good idea about how the REST of the world lived during these times. Jack's about as low as they come. :) I totally recommend this for Historical Fiction lovers everywhere. :)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "Jack had been presented with the opportunity to be stupid in some, way that was much more interesting than being shrewed would've been. These moments seemed to come to Jack every few days." - Neal Stephenson, King of the Vagabonds Stephenson continues his Quicksilver Volume with Book 2: King of the Vagabonds. Where Book 1: 'Quicksilver' dealt primarily with Isaac Newton and Daniel Waterhouse, King of the Vagabonds centers around the adventures of "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe*, Doctor Leibniz, and E "Jack had been presented with the opportunity to be stupid in some, way that was much more interesting than being shrewed would've been. These moments seemed to come to Jack every few days." - Neal Stephenson, King of the Vagabonds Stephenson continues his Quicksilver Volume with Book 2: King of the Vagabonds. Where Book 1: 'Quicksilver' dealt primarily with Isaac Newton and Daniel Waterhouse, King of the Vagabonds centers around the adventures of "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe*, Doctor Leibniz, and Eliza. It seems to have taken stock of Joseph de la Vega's . 'Confusión de confusiones (1688),' and perhaps also Charles Mackay's later Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and even Frances Gies 'Life in a Medieval City'. Much of the book involves the adventures of two or three of the above Jack, Liebniz, Eliza making their way across many of the markets and cities of Europe. It allows Stephenson to discuss not only the politics of the age of Louis XIV, but also the changing markets (Leipzig, Paris, London, Amsterdam), politics, religion, and birth of the Age of Resaon. Stephenson has said in Book 1 he was primarily dealing with nobility and the top-end of the economic ladder. So, in Book 2 he wanted to spend a bit of time at the bottom of the ladder (hence Vagabonds). * "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse, and Eliza (of Qwghlm) are all ancestors of characters from Stephenson earlier book, Cryptonomicon. Enoch Root appears in this book as well as in Quicksilver AND Cryptonomicon. He is like a Zelig for science. Always appearing just where he needs to be to give the wheel a turn, the cart a push, the clock of progress a wind.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carbonbased Bookworm

    so-so. Not bad, but definitely not even close to his other books (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon). I loooove themes in the series (cryptology, numismatics, the transformation from feudal rule toward the scientific and "western") but somehow I just do not have that can't-stop-reading feeling which I had while I was devouring Cryptonomicon. I will keep reading it, though. so-so. Not bad, but definitely not even close to his other books (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon). I loooove themes in the series (cryptology, numismatics, the transformation from feudal rule toward the scientific and "western") but somehow I just do not have that can't-stop-reading feeling which I had while I was devouring Cryptonomicon. I will keep reading it, though.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Banner

    I wasn't for sure what to expect from this book after the first in the series was such a well written historical fiction of early science. According to the reviews I read, this was nothing like the first (with the exception of the setting being the same time period). So while I wasn't for sure what to expect, I didn't think I would laugh so much. This book was so enjoyable. The characters were real people, living in a hard world. They knew the world was hard, but they didn't know it could be any I wasn't for sure what to expect from this book after the first in the series was such a well written historical fiction of early science. According to the reviews I read, this was nothing like the first (with the exception of the setting being the same time period). So while I wasn't for sure what to expect, I didn't think I would laugh so much. This book was so enjoyable. The characters were real people, living in a hard world. They knew the world was hard, but they didn't know it could be any different. In the introduction, Neal Stephenson tells us that he wants to tell the story of how a poor person in this time lived. Now the story does seem to develop the overall theme, however only moderately so, in my opinion. I don't have the words to describe "Half Cock Jack" he is one of the most interesting and enjoyable characters I have ever come across. He is not always likable, but he is never dull. Even though this book is tagged by many as "science fiction" please know that it is such a minor aspect of the overall plot that if you didn't know what you were looking for, you'd miss it. There are some rated R parts so reader beware. The ending does have a feel of being a book in a series, but no cliff hanger here.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    A couple years went by between my reading the first book in this series and getting my hands on the second, but given how little the characters and events in this book overlap with the first, it really doesn't matter. Where the first book followed Daniel Waterhouse, Natural Philosopher and scion of a staunch, politically active Puritan family, and took place mostly in England, this book follows "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe (whose nickname refers as much to an anatomical peculiarity of his as it doe A couple years went by between my reading the first book in this series and getting my hands on the second, but given how little the characters and events in this book overlap with the first, it really doesn't matter. Where the first book followed Daniel Waterhouse, Natural Philosopher and scion of a staunch, politically active Puritan family, and took place mostly in England, this book follows "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe (whose nickname refers as much to an anatomical peculiarity of his as it does to his spontaneous and intemperate disposition) and a mysterious, beautiful and very clever woman named Eliza, and takes place mostly on the European continent. It also has much less of an emphasis on 17th-century science than the first book, delving more into that era's political and economic developments. (Indeed, so much of the action of this book revolves around schemes relating to the buying and selling of shares of stock that I was both bored and somewhat confused for long stretches in the middle. Finance is like intellectual Kryptonite to me; can't understand it, have zero interest in understanding it.) Anyway, the characters. Half-Cocked Jack sounds like someone took the most dramatic, colorful elements from Dickens (Jack's motherless childhood with his brother Bob, earning money hanging onto condemned men's legs as they swung from the gallows, ensuring a somewhat quicker death), Hunter S. Thompson (Jack is slowly losing his mind to syphilis, and as his side of the story progresses he becomes increasingly prone to vivid hallucinations which he cannot distinguish from reality), Jonathan Swift (in the frankly scatological descriptions of the kind of life Jack leads - hygiene is apparently a luxury a 17th-century Vagabond learns to do without), John Kennedy Toole and Gary Shteyngart (Jack's lewdness, sensuality and his knack for accidental heroism), and blended them all together in a single character. The actual experience of reading about this character's adventures is only slightly less awesome than whatever you've conjured up in your head while reading the previous sentence; the only problem is that they're so disjointed and episodic there's no sense of narrative momentum, just one damn thing after another. The other main character is Eliza, a beautiful woman Jack rescues from a Turkish army camp during one of his brief spells of soldiering. When she first appeared, I wasn't sure I'd like her: her first interaction with Jack is a strained, eyeroll-inducing stretch of sexualized banter revolving around the tired, ages-old "battle of the sexes" scenario: the man has every kind of power imaginable over the woman, but because he desires her, that somehow evens the scales, or even secretly gives her the upper hand. Whatever. But luckily, Eliza is more than that: she's incredibly clever and a gifted storyteller, spinning tall tales that captivate Jack, who has lived more tall tales than most people have even heard. Like Scheherazade, she doles out portions of her life story (how she came to be a slave in a Turkish officer's tent, for instance, when she is a European woman who speaks English) strategically to make sure Jack keeps her with him long enough for her to get where she wants to go, which is Amsterdam. Once Eliza gets to Amsterdam, she and Jack split up; she stays put, hoping to get in on the expanding mercantile economy and getting swept up in a scheme involving shares in a silver mine somewhere in the mountains of Germany, which gets her running in such high-rolling circles that she runs into a couple of lordly types who seize the opportunity to use her to further their various political intrigues. Her story gets more and more interesting and suspenseful as the stakes of her game rise and the rules get more complex; Jack's, on the other hand, seems to lose steam once he parts company with her. He continues to wander around Europe, with some vague notions of selling the fine warhorse and other loot he picked up in Turkey and thereby financing x more years of Vagabond life, and maybe also leaving something for his children. (He's never met them, but he knows he has some). He goes from place to place, stuff happens to him, he is increasingly unable to distinguish what's really happening from his hallucinations, which tend to resemble Elizabethan morality plays. It's all fairly anticlimactic, even though there are a couple of really awesome episodes. The book seems arbitrarily cut off at the end, for both of them, though. Eliza's arc in particular still seems to be building toward a future climax when the narrative ends and the (very long) section cataloguing the Dramatis Personae begins.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gustav Tonér

    Hilarious and very clever!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Florin Pitea

    In terms of wit, Mr. Neal Stephenson gives Sir Terry Pratchett a run for his money.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    To do justice to Neal Stephenson at his best is inevitably doomed to some form of stylistic copying or more ponderously yet, outright quotation. This book is very well written, in a tone I'll describe as Pratchett-Wallaceian, with humor you'll laugh over, poetic description you'll admire and innumerable sly historical tie-ins you'll catch delightfully, but only you're a nerd and that makes it even better. Yes history: it's historical fiction, although the emphasis is on the fiction. Suffice it to To do justice to Neal Stephenson at his best is inevitably doomed to some form of stylistic copying or more ponderously yet, outright quotation. This book is very well written, in a tone I'll describe as Pratchett-Wallaceian, with humor you'll laugh over, poetic description you'll admire and innumerable sly historical tie-ins you'll catch delightfully, but only you're a nerd and that makes it even better. Yes history: it's historical fiction, although the emphasis is on the fiction. Suffice it to say there is somehow, in reformation-era Europe, a dose of science, and even heroes thereof, and love and swashbuckling and fantastical romps through labyrinths. You can't beat it, really. Can I even describe it? Here goes: Elizabethan era 007 makes reluctant rescues and demonstrates unintentional heroism, saving the future we now know as the past and vanishing without a trace, but he gets the girl so who needs a legacy? Well, Stephenson has now given Jack Shaftoe that too. A fantastic read, and no, you needn't complete the somewhat ponderous precursor "Quicksilver" as prerequisite to your enjoyment.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    The second book of Quicksilver, which it itself a three-book volume in the three-volume "Baroque Cycle" series. Shifting gears somewhat from Quicksilver (the first book, not the first volume), Stephenson follows the adventures of Jack Shaftoe, a seventeenth-century adventurer-hobo ("vagabond") on the Continent. Where the first book concerned itself mostly with science, King of the Vagabonds is a Picaresque novel rife with the spirit of Rabbelais and Shakespere-- bawdy, improbable adventures inter The second book of Quicksilver, which it itself a three-book volume in the three-volume "Baroque Cycle" series. Shifting gears somewhat from Quicksilver (the first book, not the first volume), Stephenson follows the adventures of Jack Shaftoe, a seventeenth-century adventurer-hobo ("vagabond") on the Continent. Where the first book concerned itself mostly with science, King of the Vagabonds is a Picaresque novel rife with the spirit of Rabbelais and Shakespere-- bawdy, improbable adventures intertwine with genuine historical events and grim scenes of war and death. In place of science, economics seem to be the focus of this book. After a brief stint in the Polish-Hungarian Army during the Battle of Vienna, Jack frees Eliza, a Qwghlmian kidnap victim, from the Sultan's harem. The two journey across the Continent, investing in get-rich-quick schemes and rubbing elbows with unexpected royalty. Unfortunately, Stephenson's first successful novels were pigeonholed in the "Science Fiction" category; subsequent novels were placed there, apparently out of habit.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ben De Bono

    I'd rank this a little lower than the first book though they're mostly on par with one another. The story is alright, but I don't find Jack or Eliza particularly likable characters. 2.5 stars I'd rank this a little lower than the first book though they're mostly on par with one another. The story is alright, but I don't find Jack or Eliza particularly likable characters. 2.5 stars

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Ruth (Oracleofmadness)

    Once again, the book begins with hangings, although this is a little more involved. Jack Shaftoe is the unlikely hero of this tale which starts at the start, with his brothers. Eventually, Jack is on his own but is well-known as "half-cocked Jack", the King of Vagabonds. This name does have an explanation that supports it, however, I am not going to go into that. You will just have to make an educated guess! Jack is what is called, "The Devil's Poor", as opposed to, "God's Poor". "Devil's Poor " Once again, the book begins with hangings, although this is a little more involved. Jack Shaftoe is the unlikely hero of this tale which starts at the start, with his brothers. Eventually, Jack is on his own but is well-known as "half-cocked Jack", the King of Vagabonds. This name does have an explanation that supports it, however, I am not going to go into that. You will just have to make an educated guess! Jack is what is called, "The Devil's Poor", as opposed to, "God's Poor". "Devil's Poor " are the kind of poor that are not worth helping. However, Jack finds ways to help himself (even if its confused and sometimes backfires). His view on life and this world, Europe in the late 17th century, is often callous but there is real sincerity that just cannot help but shine through. Jack has an involvement with a beautiful woman, Eliza, whom also narrates her own story throughout the book. It is Jack's care for her, which he is really bad at showing, but it proves his inner goodness. This story created so many emotions in me. I honestly cannot explain it exactly without giving away what happens. All anybody really needs to know is that The Baroque Cycle is incredible. The story leaps off the pages and into my heart.... I'm just going to say, I'm feeling some feelings, ya'll.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shana Yates

    3.5 stars. I'm really conflicted about this book and this series. I keep reading. I am interested. It can be funny and cutting and satirical. But it is truly an acquired taste, and one that I'm not 100% sure I love. There is more plot and action in this volume than there was in the first. But that is still leavened with copious amounts of history and science -- as I read a lot of nonfiction on those topics, this does not entirely turn me off, but I could see it being tedious to many readers. Per 3.5 stars. I'm really conflicted about this book and this series. I keep reading. I am interested. It can be funny and cutting and satirical. But it is truly an acquired taste, and one that I'm not 100% sure I love. There is more plot and action in this volume than there was in the first. But that is still leavened with copious amounts of history and science -- as I read a lot of nonfiction on those topics, this does not entirely turn me off, but I could see it being tedious to many readers. Perhaps my biggest issue with the book is that I usually turn to my reading with a distinct mood for either fiction or nonfiction, and the blending of the two in such obvious ways (with entire passages dealing with finance or history, with chemistry or physics) can be very jarring. I think I'll continue as I respect Stephenson and loved Cryptonomicon (which stars the descendants of many of the major players in this series). But I have to say my feelings are mixed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    An interesting jump from the first book in the cycle, exploring the lives of lower classes. The author does a good job of integrating historical figures, and putting poor Jack in all sorts of humorous situations. As usual for this series, it meanders its way around a bit, which may put some off. Despite this, the characters are strong, interesting and involved in a world that has numerous complex intrigues. My main gripe is rather pedantic - the author must have used the word diverse about a mil An interesting jump from the first book in the cycle, exploring the lives of lower classes. The author does a good job of integrating historical figures, and putting poor Jack in all sorts of humorous situations. As usual for this series, it meanders its way around a bit, which may put some off. Despite this, the characters are strong, interesting and involved in a world that has numerous complex intrigues. My main gripe is rather pedantic - the author must have used the word diverse about a million times. This becomes more obvious in the audiobook, and seems to happen throughout the series.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Madcap second part of the massive “Quicksilver”—Stephenson’s ability to connect an individual to history in a way that remains historically plausible even as one accepts the necessity of fantasy is fascinating. It’s like the first book approached history from above, while this one treats the same material from beneath—connecting them are events, sure, but beyond that the rapid expansion of a certain set of ideological ideals and philosophical perspectives perforate the material in both books, ma Madcap second part of the massive “Quicksilver”—Stephenson’s ability to connect an individual to history in a way that remains historically plausible even as one accepts the necessity of fantasy is fascinating. It’s like the first book approached history from above, while this one treats the same material from beneath—connecting them are events, sure, but beyond that the rapid expansion of a certain set of ideological ideals and philosophical perspectives perforate the material in both books, manifesting as both blessing and curse. Can’t wait for the third part!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy Tarlau

    This is the second part of Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy which is part of a larger 3 part series. So this is actually part 2 of 9 - somewhat like Starwars. The first volume was about Newton and some of the major players of the 17th century. This one followed a vagabond and his travels through Europe. It was fun and I'll definitely read the next volume when I can get around to it. This is the second part of Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy which is part of a larger 3 part series. So this is actually part 2 of 9 - somewhat like Starwars. The first volume was about Newton and some of the major players of the 17th century. This one followed a vagabond and his travels through Europe. It was fun and I'll definitely read the next volume when I can get around to it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Navaneethan Santhanam

    A romp through Europe during a period religious, political, and economic upheaval through the siege-walls around Vienna, the markets of Leipzig, the canals of Amsterdam, and the streets of Paris. I wouldn't rate this as highly as Quicksilver, but Stephenson certainly does a good job of surprising you at points when you least expect it. A romp through Europe during a period religious, political, and economic upheaval through the siege-walls around Vienna, the markets of Leipzig, the canals of Amsterdam, and the streets of Paris. I wouldn't rate this as highly as Quicksilver, but Stephenson certainly does a good job of surprising you at points when you least expect it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kristel

    2nd book in The Baroque Cycle. Alternate History features a vagabond who wonders through Europe, France and Holland. Gives a glimpse of the countries during this early time period with a lot of humor. I listened to the audio read by Simon Prebble. The historical setting is the late 17th/early 18th centuries for the Baroque cycle and the stories combine history, adventure, science, and alchemy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Harley

    What drew me to this series was science and there is little of that in this book, and I’m finding myself more and more lost in the setting. The end of this book is not rewarding for the effort to keep-up with the going-no-where plot. Jack was enjoyable but on the whole that did not save this book for me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo Taylor

    Do you like historical fiction with deep and endearing characters? This is just it. This is the kind of book that gets you looking at wikipedia a lot. This isn't "better" than Quicksilver (book 1) its just a bit fast paced, less (but not so much) science focused and more comical. History fans rejoice. Do you like historical fiction with deep and endearing characters? This is just it. This is the kind of book that gets you looking at wikipedia a lot. This isn't "better" than Quicksilver (book 1) its just a bit fast paced, less (but not so much) science focused and more comical. History fans rejoice.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sharondblk

    This volume is just focused on Jack and Eliza and who doesn't love them, even stupid, mad, foolish Jack who makes me cry in the last chapter. It's very much a divergence from the seriousness and science of the previous volume, and I loved it. Now onwards, back to London and science. This volume is just focused on Jack and Eliza and who doesn't love them, even stupid, mad, foolish Jack who makes me cry in the last chapter. It's very much a divergence from the seriousness and science of the previous volume, and I loved it. Now onwards, back to London and science.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jerfus

    3.5 stars, a gaudy and unusual story, the complete opposite of Quicksilver, I loved both Jack and Elaiza and even though there's far less intrigue in this book it's still somewhat hard to follow but a very fascinating story nonetheless. 3.5 stars, a gaudy and unusual story, the complete opposite of Quicksilver, I loved both Jack and Elaiza and even though there's far less intrigue in this book it's still somewhat hard to follow but a very fascinating story nonetheless.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Young

    book two of baroque cycle follows jack shaftoe and his welsh paramour through 17th century europe. good.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Beckwith

    This was 100x better than the first one, I enjoyed it a lot, def going to keep up with the series.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    Very different from the first book in the series. I enjoyed the style of writing, but I also found it difficult to get in to the story.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    Great twist to the storyline & perspective giving of the era.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Full of action and compelling characters.

  27. 5 out of 5

    M Christopher

    Much more a "rattling good yarn" than the first in the series but still laced with lessons in the history of Europe and of finance. Funny, bawdy, and delightful. Much more a "rattling good yarn" than the first in the series but still laced with lessons in the history of Europe and of finance. Funny, bawdy, and delightful.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    It's like Forrest Gump of the 17th century. It's like Forrest Gump of the 17th century.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Steve Swayne

    A very enjoyable read. So few books I have ever read were set in the 17th century so it is most interesting to be reading this series at present.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maureen Mathews

    A bawday picaresque novel jam-packed with historical detail, but rather disjointed as a novel.

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