Jack Shaftoe was an Algerian galley slave, but together with several other smart slaves he goes in on a plan on behalf of more powerful interests to steal Spanish silver being shipped from the New World . . . but the slaves intend to keep it for themselves. The "silver" turns out to be gold that financiers and alchemists believe possesses supernatural qualities.
Meanwhile, in France, Eliza has lost her fortune and schemes to make another one as well as to kill the French noble who raped her and sold her and her mother into slavery more than a decade before. France and England continue to flirt with all-out war. This is the second volume of Stephenson's Baroque trilogy. Although many of the historical characters who turned up in Quicksilver (Newton, Leibniz, King Louis XIV, and so on) appear in this book, too, and there's plenty of discussion of macro-economics and the Enlightenment shift from alchemy to harder sciences, more of the plot centers on Eliza and Jack alone. The time period is smaller than that covered by the first book (1696-1702), but geographically The Confusion ranges much farther: from England, France, and Germany to Algeria, Egypt, quite a bit in India, and stops in Japan and Mexico. At 815 pages, it's shorter than the first book, and reads faster.
This report prepared by David Loftus
Morrow, Apr 2004, 27.95, 815 pp.
In 1689 off the Barbary Coast, a slightly insane Jack Shaftoe is one of a crew of slaves rowing a pirate's ship when a plan to escape surface. The ten pull off their stunt and take with them some Spanish loot that turns out to be special gold that alchemists mixed with“divine” qualities.
At the same time that the “King of the Vagabonds” and cohorts make their escape with the gold, the woman he once rescued from a harem, Eliza, looks forward to one day living peacefully raising her child while also planning to retaliate against the rogue who “sold” her to the Ottomans. However sailing the Mediterranean can prove dangerous and Eliza is too skilled an operator for the French to allow her to rusticate or urbanize in London. Instead she is drafted to help the Sun King and crafts an intricate deal to obtain money so that the French-Irish army can invade England.
THE CONFUSION is actually two Baroque tales interwoven (literally as the perspective predominantly shifts between Eliza and Jack and to a lesser degree the Juncto (Leibniz, Newton, etc.). The twin story lines are very amusing action-adventure tales in which both are superb, but Jack's swashbuckling is incredible. There is no doubt that this epic historical action thriller provides a wonderful witty winner as Neal Stephenson paints a masterly look back as he did in QUICKSILVER.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner