Odalisque (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1, Book 3)

ISBN: 0060833181
ISBN 13: 9780060833183
By: Neal Stephenson

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About this book

The trials of Dr. Daniel Waterhouse and the Natural Philosophers increase one hundredfold in an England plagued by the impending war and royal insecurities -- as the beautiful and ambitious Eliza plays a most dangerous game as double agent and confidante of enemy kings.

Reader's Thoughts


Enjoyable, although the epistolary format of a significant part of the book isn't my favorite mode (it is certainly period-appropriate, though). Not a stand-alone, this one requires readers to have completed the first two volumes to comprehend the characters and action.


A great book. Really getting into the in-depth history of court intrigues and warfare. I liked King of the Vagabonds (part 2 of the Baroque Series) even more, and just started books 4-5!


Continues the stories of Daniel Waterhouse and Eliza through the historical events at the end of the 17th century.

Michael Nash

A lovely series about a part of history that rarely gets the historical fiction treatment. Stephenson has a marvelous knack for sardonic prose. The characters are vital and engaging. Still thrown off by the weird disjointed narrative though.


Why do I keep reading these?If I could just have a few hundred pages of Neal Stephenson talking about the history of science and currency without these characters I would be thrilled. Likewise if he could tell me a story about these characters in which I actually believe they have some agency, rather than just being pulled along by historical events that already happened.

Clif Hostetler

This book 3 of the Baroque Cycle follows the paths of the two fictional characters, Dr. Daniel Waterhouse and Eliza. Readers of the Baroque Cycle were previously introduced to Waterhouse in book 1 and Eliza in book 2. In this story they manage to encounter most of the leading historical figures of the day. The story begins in 1685 with Dr. Waterhouse present at the death of King Charles II. Tension in England then rises because the new King, James II, has Catholic preferences and the core of English sentiments are Protestant. Meanwhile on the Continent, Eliza is deep in the world of spies, counter spies and finance. She is a confidante of William of Orange (Holland) and Louie IV (France). Her adventures included witnessing the attempted kidnapping of William of Orange. Her travels also witnessed the beginning of French preparations for the invasion of Lorraine that signaled reduced pressure on the Netherlands. This allowed William of Orange to make his move on England that resulted in the so called Glorious Revolution of England.The story includes descriptions of the advances in natural philosophy. Included are descriptions of the tensions between Leibnetz and Newton, development of calculus, development of the laws of gravity, and the development of the field of dynamics in physics. The following quotation is an example of colorful and descriptive writing that caught my eye:...he was one of those blokes who used peripheral vision for everything. Give him a spyglass, he'd raise it to his ear, and see as much as Galileo. His nose had been broken at least twice and he'd endured a blowout fracture of the left eye-socket, which made it seem as if his face were a clay effigy squirting out between the fingers of a clenching fist.LINK TO Wikipedia article about the Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson.LINK TO my review of Quick Silver (Bk. 1) by Neal Stephenson.LINK TO my review of King of the Vagabonds (Bk. 2) by Neal Stephenson.LINK TO my review of The Confusion (Bks. 4 & 5) by Neal Stephenson.LINK TO my review of Solomon's Gold (Bk. 6) by Neal Stephenson.LINK TO my review of Currency (Bk. 7) by Neal Stephenson.LINK TO my review of System of the World (Bk. 8) by Neal Stephenson.


This is the third book in the eight-book Baroque Cycle, and also the third part of the first volume. So it involves a fair amount of tying together separate characters and story arcs introduced in the first two books, Quicksilver and King of the Vagabonds, which is mostly accomplished by having Eliza meet up with Daniel Waterhouse in England. (Jack Shaftoe does not appear at all in this book, though he is alluded to a few times by other characters. His brother, Bob, does make an appearance near the end, introducing a story arc of his own that intersects with those of Eliza and Daniel.)Structurally, this book follows the latter part of King of the Vagabonds in switching back and forth between two geographically distant characters' points of view. Where in the second book it was Eliza and Jack, here it is Eliza and Daniel, who are much more similar in temperament and habit --- both are smart, cautious characters who observe, plan, and then act, rather than heedlessly throwing themselves into the thick of things. This makes for more suspense, and more sense that each narrative is building toward something, as opposed to just listing along from one episode to the next. But it also makes for fewer entertaining incidents, so if you really liked Jack's part of the last book, you might find yourself bored by this one.Eliza by now is ensconced in King Louis IV's court at Versailles, where she has a sponsor of sort, the comte d'Avaux, whom she met in the previous book and who has gotten her a position as governess to the children of some noblewoman. That's only a pretext for her to be at Versailles, though, where she has several more important roles she keeps shrouded in varying degrees of secrecy. Nearest to the surface, she acts as personal finance manager to practically the entire court, most of whose members are nearing bankruptcy trying to maintain their households and wardrobes at a suitable level of opulence. Known to fewer people, she corresponds with d'Avaux, keeping him updated on what goes on at court; she also corresponds with the Natural Philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who has published his calculus. She uses a couple of different codes to write her letters; the letters she writes to d'Avaux are written in a simpler code that she anticipates will be broken by Dutch spies, who are her real audience for those missives. (D'Avaux, it was revealed in the last book, is working to undermine King Louis, but is not pro-Dutch either. I'm not 100% sure how much his agenda and Eliza's overlap, though I don't THINK he knows the Dutch are reading his correspondence ...) Anyway, at the highest level of secrecy, she's spying for William, the Prince of Orange, who intends to seize power in England.And, reading that paragraph, you will start to see why I don't like the title of this installment in the Baroque Cycle. An odalisque is a woman whose defining feature is her idleness; she's kept by others to be idle, and beautiful, for them. Eliza, who has to be the one the title refers to, is dizzyingly active ALL THE TIME, simultaneously doing two or three incredibly difficult things, and making sure no one sees her doing them, at any given time. Stephenson might well have chosen the title ironically; that's the only way I can see it making any sense.I mentioned that Daniel Waterhouse comes back into play in this book; he does, and when we meet him he has come into his own as a political power player. He's still a Fellow of the Royal Society, but he doesn't conduct any research of his own. Instead, he hangs around King James II's dwindling court, watching his doctors try to treat his advanced syphilis and talking with other people about what's going to happen next. He intercedes on behalf of his fellow Puritans, getting them released from jail whenever they get rounded up on suspicion of fomenting another rebellion (remember that in the first book, Daniel's father Drake was instrumental in bringing Oliver Cromwell to power, and was rewarded for this by having his head cut off once Charles II was restored to the throne). While he's watching and waiting, the Glorious Revolution happens around him. He knows he has played some role in bringing it about, but he mostly just wanders around dazed once it actually starts unfolding. Mostly, he tries to keep an eye on his friend Isaac Newton, who is going off the deep end, abandoning physics for some sort of esoteric metaphysics. His parts of the book, especially compared to Eliza's and especially toward the end, are anticlimactic.

Lauren Wise

This one is a little dense, full of political intrigue and further exploits of half-cocked Jack. I found it a little harder to get through. Still, a great conclusion to the series.


As with all books so far in this series, interesting reading, not sure where it is going. Traces a time period in the late 1600s when the world was quite a bit different. Royalty lived in their own world of power, seduction, and intrique. This book covers events in France related to taking the Alsace-Loraine area and expand their territory to the Rhine while the Netherlands had their eyes set on England. The characters are interesting and the audio book was great. Overall though, I felt the story line just is not quite there yet.


Like the others in this series, the plot and characters, don't really grab my attention, but the writing style is so entertaining, I read it anyway!


I started Quicksilver nearly 3 years ago, and have been happily, but slowly, nibbling at this series. I look forward to the next five books. Should take be about 5 years to get through them all.

William P.

The pace gets a little weird in this book. The style changes drastically from book to book and this one didn't really hold up as well as the first two. I'd like to see where it's going, but I'm beginning to doubt that it's "going" anywhere in particular. Also, the audiobook version, for some ungodly reason, switches to second reader for sections written as letters by Eliza. She's not good. Not only is her voicing of the character different from Prebble's (which I love, and he still narrates her in the main, third-person stretches), but it really doesn't match the character. It's just... wrong. And these letters are not an insignificant part of the book. If it weren't for Prebble, I'd say give the audio a miss and read it, but... Prebble...

T.L. Evans

Odalisque is a solid, enjoyable addition to Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, but as that it is the third entry in the series (and also marketed as both its own volume (at least in audio format) and part a collected volume called Quicksilver, which is also the title of the first installment in the book/series), it really does require the reader to already be invested in the tale. Not to say that one could not read this without having read the rest of the book, but one's enjoyment of it will be more limited. What is more, I feel that this series is getting a bit long in the tooth by this stage. Even so, I did enjoy reading it despite the fact that I don't feel the need to go out at once and pick up the next volume.For my full review go to www.sophyempire.wordpress.com or shortlink straight to the articles reviewing the whole of the Quicksilver Volumes at:Quick Silver - The Baroque Cycle #1 - http://wp.me/pWa2h-8TKing of the Vagabonds - The Baroque Cycle #2 - http://wp.me/pWa2h-glOdalisque: The Baroque Cycle #3 - http://wp.me/pWa2h-A0

Liz C

#3 returns again to some of the characters from #1, and I appreciated that but I'm not a big fan of Eliza and I still found the prose very long-winded. I decided to take a break from the series after this one and have yet to start book #4.


Good enough - the plot thickens to the point of involving a large number of historical figures, which is a risky proposition and lends some inevitability to the proceedings. Otherwise, though, a reasonably engaging narrative.

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