I am reading this book in chunks throughout the summer for a few reasons: A) it’s really long and not exactly tedious, but demanding a little. It’s not a complicated book but the prose is detailed and a little exacting. B) I have an audiobook of the first part of this, and this seems like an easy way to chunk it out. C) The book itself is divided into three sections that are distinct and when the book first came out, I read the first two (though I can’t be sure I read all of the second — I am reading it currently and it feels quite familiar).
So section 1: Quicksilver
This book takes place primarily in Boston in the late 1600s and focuses on the older Daniel Waterhouse, a mathematician and alchemist working through his trade. The book also spends a large chunk of time in Oxford about 40 years earlier when Waterhouse was the friend, roommate, and colleague of Isaac Newton, who’s treated as a kind prodigy/savant cum asshole who can’t function in the real world.
Section: 2: King of the Vagabonds
Where the first section of the book felt like a kind of Umberto Eco or even Susanna Clarke-esque historical fiction, this section reads much more like an adventure tale. We start with Jack Shaftoe as a boy who escapes being hanged in Newgate prison and who picks up the trade: leg-pulling, ie the art of yanking on the legs of condemned criminals to help them die quicker. Apparently the rich are able to buy their way into a more “humane” hanging. We then move to the present day of the 1680s, where Jack, a soldier in “Germany” fighting the Turks escapes battle with Eliza, fresh from a Turkish harem.
Section Three: Odalisque
This third section combines these different story lines together and sets the terms of the broader plot and stakes.
This book is slowwwwww, but good, but is slowwww.