The Baroque Cycle

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The Baroque Cycle is an epic series by Neal Stephenson about the birth of the modern world and set during The Cavalier Years. Through the volumes Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World, the cycle follow the intertwining stories of natural philosopher Daniel Waterhouse FRS, vagabond 'Half-Cocked' Jack Shaftoe, his soldier brother Bob and harem girl-cum-capitalist Eliza of Qwghlm, who's also the love of Jack's life. Spanning decades and the globe. Set in the late 17th and early 18th century and charting the rise and eventual triumph of the scientific method and modern capitalism, the story might best be described as historical science-fiction with fantastic elements.

Basically, it's the result of what happens when you take one part tall tale, one part science, one part modern history, one part alchemy, a dictionary, a dash of macroeconomics, and a whole lot of guts. Add Isaac Newton, cryptography, The Sun King, puritans, the Royal Society, capitalism, Blackbeard, illegitimate children, and Solomonic gold.

The protagonists:

Real Life scientistsnatural philosophers featured heavily in the story:

Jack's Cabal, organized in The Confusion:

And tying everyone together:

Novels in the series:

The Other Wiki tells us that the Baroque Cycle consists of several novels "lumped together into three volumes because it is more convenient from a publishing standpoint"; Stephenson felt calling the works a trilogy would be "bogus".

The cycle is made up of eight books that were first published in three volumes.

  • Quicksilver, Vol. I of the Baroque CycleArthur C. Clarke Award winner, Locus Award nominee, 2004
    • Book 1 – Quicksilver
    • Book 2 – King of the Vagabonds
    • Book 3 – Odalisque
  • The Confusion, Vol. II of the Baroque Cycle – Locus Award winner
    • Book 4 – Bonanza
    • Book 5 – The Juncto
  • The System of the World, Vol. III of the Baroque Cycle – Locus Award winner, Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee, 2005
    • Book 6 – Solomon's Gold
    • Book 7 – Currency
    • Book 8 – The System of the World
The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the The Baroque Cycle franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
  • Affably Evil - Louis XIV, in his dealings with Jack. Actually, most of the villains come off as nice guys until you see what they're capable of doing...
  • Alternate Universe - Takes place in our own world, but swaps out some of the real historical figures (King Charles II's CABAL, Newton's real Cambridge roommate) and adds some mysterious personages (Enoch Root, Solomon Kohan).
  • Anti-Hero - Jack and Eliza
  • Arranged Marriage - As per history, most of the nobility. Notably the German princesses Eleanor and Caroline.
  • Author Avatar - Fanon has it that Enoch the Red is literally Neal Stephenson's avatar.
  • Back from the Dead - Daniel and Isaac. Maybe Édouard de Gex, but it's kept ambiguous.
  • Badass Boast with a distinct flavor of I Have Many Names

Jack: "In fact I have let you live, but for one purpose only: so that you can make your way to Paris and tell them the following: that the deed you are about to witness was done for a woman, whose name I will not say, for she knows who she is; and that it was done by 'Half-Cocked' Jack Shaftoe, L'Emmerdeur, the King of the Vagabonds, Ali Zaybak: Quicksilver!"

  • Badass Bookworm - Some of the characters (i.e. Dappa and Moseh de la Cruz) are very well educated but have amazing fighting skills
    • Bonaventure Rossignol is a brilliant cryptanalyst who enjoys reading people's mail (encrypted or not) to find out if they're heading into danger just so he can run off to be a Big Damn Hero.
  • The Baroness - D'Oyonnax.
  • Batman Gambit - Jack's daring escape in the finale, performed by deliberately subverting a Thanatos Gambit (see that trope's entry on this page for details).
    • Vrej Esphahnian's plan for getting revenge on Jack involves much manipulation of several people just to get aboard the same ship, several years pretending to be loyal to Jack, and eventually taking advantage of Jack's love for Eliza to lure Minerva into a trap.
  • Berserk Button - Eliza does not like slavery. It's enough to get her to attempt to kill Jack with a harpoon for getting involved with it.
  • Big Damn Heroes - Eliza and Fatio's rescue of William of Orange.
  • Bi the Way - William of Orange and Eliza (or at least both of them go out of the way to appear bi, regardless of whether or not they're really attracted to both sexes).
  • Boisterous Bruiser - 'Half-Cocked' Jack Shaftoe, L'Emmerdeur, the King of the Vagabonds, Ali Zaybak: Quicksilver![1]
    • Jack's sons, Jimmy and Danny, also inherited this trait. Red-Neck Ronin, anyone?
    • Peter the Great also counts.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer - William of Orange is Genre Savvy enough to understand that the most competent people have the weirdest quirks. Thus, he goes out of his way to hire quirky people, and he distrusts those without quirks.
  • The Captain - Captain Otto van Hoek, member of the Cabal and captain of Minerva. Yes, he has a Hook Hand.
  • Captain Ersatz - Stephenson substituted some Real Life figures with these to make his story flow better: all members of Charles II's CABAL are these, Roger Comstock's life is almost identical to that of Charles Montagu (the narration even lampshades it by referring to Roger as "a Capulet or a Montague"), and in college, Daniel took the role of Isaac's Real Life roommate.
  • Celibate Hero - Jack, but not by choice- the nicknamed Half-Cocked refers both to his mental state and the result of an operation to cure venereal disease gone horribly wrong
    • Also Isaac Newton, as per history
  • Cloudcuckoolander - Hooke, anyone?
    • Newton much moreso than Hooke. Hooke was just a Newton was off in his own world much of the time (Real Life corroborates this...look up his stint in Parliament for proof[2]), most obviously in college, but he was like this in his adult life too.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Daniel is this to Isaac when they are students.
  • Cool Boat - Minerva.
  • Cool Sword - Jack's Janissary sword; it's made out of wootz, which is for all intents and purposes, Unobtanium that exists in Real Life.
  • Deadpan Snarker - The older Daniel gets, the snarkier he gets.
  • Doorstopper - Three books, written by Neal Stephenson. You shall never want for an object to hold open a door while you own this series.
    • And if you think the books are big, you should see the manuscript, it's written in longhand and taller than the author.
  • Double Meaning Title Quicksilver and to a lesser extent The Confusion.
  • Everyone Went to School Together - Daniel Waterhouse and Isaac Newton, as well as Upnor, Monmouth, and Jeffreys, were all at Cambridge at the same time.
  • Evil Jesuit - Édouard de Gex
  • Eye Scream - Both in-story and for the reader: Daniel inadvertenly walking in on Isaac experimenting by sticking a needle into his own eye socket.
  • Face Heel Turn - Vrej Esphahnian
  • Fridge Brilliance - Cryptonomicon's Rudy von Hacklheber, brilliant mathematician and cryptographer, turns out to be descended not from Lothar von Hacklheber, alchemist banker, but from brilliant French mathematician and cryptographer Bonaventure Rossignol, as well as the brilliant Eliza De La Zeur.
    • It seems at first glance that Daniel, an atheist Natural Philosopher and courtier, is quite unlike his anti-Royal Puritan father, Drake. But, in being a major player in the change from Royalty to the new System of the World, he turns out to be his father's son.
  • Funetik Aksent - Averted when the characters are speaking a language other than English and the Translation Convention is in full effect, otherwise used with several characters. There's one Scottish character in particular whose accent is so impenetrable that others insist he's not even speaking English at all.
  • Galley Slave - Monsieur Arlanc, and Jack, as well as everyone else in the Cabal..
  • Generation Xerox - Although this series was written afterward, technically, the characters of Cryptonomicon are a Generation Xerox of those in this book. Daniel Waterhouse is, like Lawrence and Randy Waterhouse, a bit of a Mad Scientist, while Jack Shaftoe is a great Badass just like Bobby and Amy Shaftoe.
  • Genius Bruiser - Fr. Gabriel Goto, SJ.
  • Harmony Versus Discipline - Leibniz is Harmony, Newton is Discipline. The real reason why they hate each other.
  • Heel Face Turn - Lothar, when he comes to feel affection for little Jean-Jacques/Johann.
  • The High Queen - Sophie of Hanover.
  • The House of Hanover - The first two Georges make their appearances, but have rings run around them by Sophie and Caroline.
  • The House of Stuart - Beginning with the beheading of Charles I, Daniel Waterhouse gets to witness more than he ever wanted about the lives of the Stuart successors.
  • Ho Yay - Isaac and Daniel, Isaac and Fatio, Isaac and anyone he doesn't hate; William of Orange and his pretty pages.
    • Specifically, Fatio jealously suspects this of Daniel and Leibniz with respect to Isaac.
  • Immortality - The goal of the Alchemists, and apparent state of Enoch Root
  • Implausible Fencing Powers - The Earl of Upnor is said to be the most skilled swordsman in England. During a duel, he even manages to convey sarcasm through the movements of his sword.
  • Indy Ploy - Jack loves these.
  • It Will Never Catch On - Jack thinks the German word thaler (which he mispronounces as "dollar," its eventual etymological descendant) is a stupid name for money.
    • Enoch Root's friend thinks tea is too outlandish to ever catch on in England.
    • Eliza's two banker friends thought the informal financial system used in Lyons will never work, the system is essentially the same as the modern credit-based economy.
  • Japanese Christian - Gabriel Goto
  • Karmic Death - Bob suggests this as an epitaph for the Earl of Upnor: "finest swordsman in England, beaten to death with a stick by an Irishman", which is exactly how he died.
  • Killed Off for Real - Quite a lot of people. Of course, when you're writing Historical Fiction, Historical Domain Characters have to die when they're supposed to.
  • Large and In Charge - Peter of Russia - effect underlined by the fact that he apparentely surrounds himself with midgets.
  • Little Master Badass - Johann von Hackleheber. At the rough age of three, he shoots a man attempting to harpoon his adopted father to death. In the eye. With a toy bow and arrow. Doing so saved his father's life. He only grew from there.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters - Just about everyone able to read in the time period(and a few who can't!) makes an appearance.
  • The Longitude Problem - It's unsolved. This causes problems.
  • Lampshade Hanging:

Teague: What d'you think y'are, a character in a friggin' novel, Bob?

  • Loving a Shadow - Gets an interesting twist in Eliza's relationship with Bob. She references the trope, but notes that since Bob is healthy and level-headed, and Jack is a crazy syphilitic, Jack, the original love, is the one who looks more like a shadow.
  • Made of Iron - Yevgeny is extremely tough and stoically endures even the most grievous injuries.
  • Magnetic Hero - Jack is one. It's outright stated in the books that the people that Jack finds himself around would in any other situation be leaders and good ones- as van Hoek shows. But they all look towards Jack to take action.
  • Meaningful Name: Moseh de la Cruz.

"'Moses of the Cross'? What the hell kind of name is that?"
Moseh did not appear to find it especially funny. "It is a long story -- even by your standards, Jack. Suffice it to say that the Iberian Peninsula is a complicated place to be Jewish."

  • Mistaken for Special Guest: Jack Shaftoe, AKA "King of the Vagabonds," accidentally crashes a masquerade party that King Louis of France is expected to attend dressed as...King of the Vagabonds.
  • Motif - The recurrent image in the first novel is quicksilver, a constant ingredient used in science, alchemy and finance. Mercury symbolizes the fluid scientific and economic forces that ruled the Age of Enlightenment.
    • The second novel adds the concept of the confusion (or con-fusion), the mixing and destruction of the old to create the new.
  • Musical Assassin: Sort off, Eliza finally kills De Gex (with some help from Handel) by tossing a cello across an orchestra pit and skewering him with the instrument's end pin
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast - Édouard de Gex's alias, Edmund de Ath.
    • Jeffreys' hired assassins, Bob Carver and Dick Gripp.
  • Never Found the Body - Yevgeny, during the battle at Cairo. He turns up later.
  • Noodle Incident: Daniel Waterhouse may or may not have precipitated the Glorious Revolution of of 1688.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity - Daniel Waterhouse pretends to be suffering from senile dementia in order to root out the spy in Sophie of Hanover's court.
  • Off with His Head - Jack finds and beheads the man who sold Eliza and her mother into sexual slavery, and sends her his head on a silver platter
  • Out with a Bang - Roger dies rogering Newton's sexy niece.
  • Phantasy Spelling - In keeping with the flavour of the times, it's Phanatiques, technologickal, clew, and Phant'sy.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni - Jack and Bob.
  • Really Gets Around - To an extent Eliza, although some of this is an Urban Legend Love Life as part of Obfuscating Stupidity
  • Real Person Fic - About the OCs Jack, Eliza, and Daniel in the middle of the Baroque era.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something - Louis XIV, William of Orange, Peter the Great, and the females of the House of Hanover.
    • Notably, the King Charles II personally led a squad of firemen to deal with the Fire of London, and killed Daniel's father when he got in the way.
  • Ruritania - The fictional island of Qwghlm is presented as a backward place, with almost no resources except a lot of bird crap. The main livelihood of its residence is acting as Wreckers of English ships.
  • Shout-Out
    • In The Confusion, Enoch the Red provides an interesting twist on Clarke's Third Law: "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistunguishable from a yo-yo".
      • Later Jack mentions that his "vagabond shoes are longing to stray".
    • The System of the World references two Monty Python jokes (involving The Spanish Inquisition and a shrubbery). There's also a brief mention of a book titled Python Explain'd, though knowing the author's pet subjects, that may well be a cheeky anachronistic reference to the programming language, which was in turn named after the comedy troupe.
  • Single-Target Sexuality - Jack for Eliza, since Eliza is literally the only person who is able to sexually satisfy Jack (it has to do with Jack's disability and the things Eliza learned from "books of India" while in slavery.)
  • The Spanish Inquisition - The members of the Cabal get an up-close-and-personal look at the Inquisiton when they arrive in Mexico in The Confusion. And, yes, there was a Monty Python reference in The System of the World.
  • Spanner in the Works - One of Jack's nicknames, "L'Emmerdeur,[3]" specifically references his tendency to be this.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute - Daniel discusses this trope when he notes that some people can easily be replaced by Suspiciously Similar Substitutes (e.g. Thomas More Anglesey replacing John Comstock), while others aren't so easily replaceable.
  • Thanatos Gambit - Subverted in the finale. Just before Jack is about to be half-hanged, drawn, and quartered (a really slow and painful execution), he receives an expensive suit and lots of money with which to bribe the executioner to make his death quick and painless. Thanatos Gambit, check. Now for the subversion: after the executioner jumps for joy over what he'll be receiving, Jack tosses it all to the Mobb watching the execution, so the executioner resolves to make his death even slower and more painful than usual. With Jack already being a popular figure among the Mobb, his generosity pushes them over the edge; with plenty of time to act now that the executioner is determined to take his time, the Mobb storms the gallows after Jack starts hanging and carries him to safety, which was all part of Jack's plan.
    • Furthermore, Newton and the various officials who ordered the execution were too far away to see all this drama, so they assumed that the executioner has given Jack a long drop and a fast death, and so do not bother to look for him.
  • Tourette's Shitcock Syndrome - Badass Spaniard Jeronimo. There's even an amusing reference to the (fictional) St. Etienne de la Tourette.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting - Three, actually: Daniel, Jack, and Eliza. And those are just the major ones...
  • Unobtanium - The Solomonic gold
  • The Unpronounceable - The language of Qwghlm, which employs too many consonants and absolutely no vowels at all.
  • Upper Class Twit - Peer, who so embodies this trope that his name isn't even given in the text.
  • The Watson - Daniel Waterhouse for Isaac Newton, Gottfreid Leibniz, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren, Christiaan Huygens, Henry Oldenberg, et al.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist - All of the Puritans, though the ones that get the most focus are Drake Waterhouse and the Bolstroods. The Raskolniks, too, including Yevgeny.
    • Daniel is an exception; he really doesn't care about most of the things his father railed against. He did inherit his father's dislike of the Established Church and distaste for fanciness, though he doesn't care about either nearly as much as his father did.
      • Not so much an exception; Daniel rages (privately) against the established Church's sermons deploring the execution of King Charles I. Though he'd rather not come to violence, and he ends up serving several monarchs (always for Whiggish causes), his republicanism is adamant.
  • Winter Royal Lady - Much is made of the legacy of the original one; Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen.
  • Xanatos Gambit - abound. Notably -
    • The assault on the Tower of London.
  • Xanatos Roulette Eliza's incredibly baroque plan for getting revenge on Lothar.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Daniel says something like this to Hooke, who is insecure about being overshadowed by Newton.
  1. That was an actual quote by Jack, during one of his Crowning Moments Of Awesome.
  2. notoriously, his one "speech" during his time there was something along the lines of "Mr. Speaker, it's rather stuffy in here; I crave that the House open a window or something"
  3. French for "he who covers everything in shit"