The Baroque Cycle is an epic 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, the novels chart the rise and eventual triumph of the scientific method and modern capitalism. Collectively, 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:
Eliza: An ex-slave rescued by Jack who soon discovers a talent for both finance and manipulation. Her brilliance, financial acumen, skill at espionage, penchant for planning and ability to manipulate people (including pretty much the entire French nobility) make her one hell of a Guile Hero.
Bob Shaftoe: Jack's somewhat more level-headed brother and thus the Blue Oni to Jack's Red Oni. Spends much of the cycle trying to rescue a Distressed Damsel from a villain, working with Daniel and Eliza from time to time.
Real Lifescientistsnatural philosophers featured heavily in the story:
Gottfried Leibniz: A German natural philosopher just a brilliant as Newton but without the personality flaws and with a verydifferent worldview. Indeed, the book's main focus is the difference betwen Newton and Leibniz's worldviews.
John Wilkins: The Professor who effectively founded the Royal Society. The Obi-Wan to Daniel. Has an interest in how language can both obfuscate and clarify meaning.
Otto van Hoek: seaman who really hates pirates. Becomes The Captain when the Cabal gets their Cool Boat.
Dappa: African linguist, Badass Bookworm, and just as much The Smart Guy as Moseh. Hates slavery just as much as Van Hoek hates pirates. Completely averts Scary Black Man, as he's one of the most calm, collected, and intellectual members of the Cabal.
Yevgeny the Raskolnik: The Big Guy. As The Big Guy he, of course, uses a hammer after he loses his arm at the battle of Khan el-Khalili it is replaced with a cannonball on an iron rod at on point and a massive flail at another point
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 John Wickins) and adds some mysterious personages (Enoch Root, Solomon Kohan).
Badass Bookworm: 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.
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.
"Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe, "L'Emmerdeur, the King of the Vagabonds, Ali Zaybak: Quicksilver."
Jack's sons, Jimmy and Danny, also inherited this trait.
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.
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. Wootz was used to make Damascus, or "watered," steel, in a process unknown today. Though attempts have been made to imitate it, modern results are slightly inferior to the historical artifacts.
Door Stopper - Three books, written by Neal Stephenson. They're broken into eight more manageable, but still enormous, novels in some markets. The manuscript (on display at the Sci-Fi Museum in Seattle), is a handwritten stack of paper that is taller than the author. The audio version is one hundred and thirteen hours long.
The Dung Ages: It seems that Stephenson can't go more than a dozen pages without making some reference to some form of feces, and just how many open sewers ran through 17th and 18th century European cities (especially London.)
Funetik Aksent - Lord Gy speaks in an almost impenetrable Scottish accent. Other characters insist that he's not actually speaking English. In the afterward, Stephenson assures anyone who might be offended by the accent that his ancestors are surely already spinning in their graves.
Galley Slave - Monsieur Arlanc, and Jack, as well as everyone else in the Cabal..
Daniel Waterhouse is an extremely intelligent technophile who makes contributions to the realm of computing, but lives in the shadow of his more brilliant friends, just like his descendants Lawrence and Randy Waterhouse.
Jack Shaftoe and his sons are irreverent badasses. Bob Shaftoe is a soldier. Their descendants are also soldiers and/or fiercely independent badasses.
Gabriel Goto is a tough and level-headed side-character, just like Goto Dengo.
Historical Badass Upgrade: Peter the Great. In reality he was extremely tall, but also very thin and prone to muscle spasms. In the series, he's a giant with immense strength who single-handedly duels and kills the enormous badass Yevegny.
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.
Immortality - The goal of the Alchemists, and apparent state of Enoch Root
Large and in Charge - Peter of Russia - effect underlined by the fact that he apparently surrounds himself with midgets.
Little Miss Badass - Johann von Hackleheber is a male example. At the rough age of five, 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.
The Longitude Problem - It's unsolved. This causes problems. The problem is brought up a number of times, with the English government offering a cash prize if the problem can be solved. A number of natural philosophers take up the challenge, but the problem remains unsolved by the end of the series.
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.
Master Swordsman - 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.
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
Phantasy Spelling: Many words are spelled in the archaic fashion, such as phanatiques, technologickal, clew, and phant'sy. Other words are hyphenated to show that the terms are new and have yet to become compound words.
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.
In The Confusion, Enoch the Red provides an interesting twist on Clarke's Third Law: "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable 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 note French for "he who covers everything in shit" — literally "the enshittener"," specifically references his tendency to be this.
Take That: Enoch The Red mentions having acquired some copies of a book called Cryptonomicon. Waterhouse's young son describes it as "A very queer old book, dreadfully thick, and full of nonsense," noting that his father uses it as a doorstopper.
Thanatos Gambit: Subverted. Jack receives golden finery to bribe the executioner for a quick death. Instead, Jack distributes the riches to the crowd, pissing off the executioner and endearing him to the mob. When the executioner starts to hang Jack slowly as revenge, the mob storms the gallows and carries him to safety.
That Old Time Prescription: Jack's syphilis is cured when he contracts English sweating sickness. Treating syphilis by inducing a high fever was a real medical practice that sometimes did work.
Unobtanium - The Solomonic gold Jack ends up with possibly the known world's supply, some of which is used in a life potion brewed up by Root.
Also, wootz steel which also involves Jack and Root
The Unpronounceable - The written language of Qwghlm employs runes. Transcribing words into letters makes them utterly unpronounceable because there are no vowels.
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. Waterhouse's Character Arc can be described as a journey to the point where he finally stops being the Watson and requires his own Watsons to explain things to.
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.
Winter Royal Lady - Much is made of the legacy of the original one; Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen.
You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Daniel tells this to Hooke, who is insecure about being overshadowed by Newton. The distinction he makes between Hooke and Newton is similar to the distinction that Randy Waterhouse makes in Cryptonomicon between "dwarves" and "elves."