Format Read: Paperback
Number of Pages: 294
Release Date: 1997; Rereleased 2005
Publisher: Avon; Tor
Series: The Company #1
Formats Available: Hardback, Trade, Mass Market, Ebook, Audio
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, BookDepository – Powells- Amazon -
In the 24th century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden.
But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company.
I just went on a crappy-book binge. I am highly suspicious of new books right now. They are enticing me with their gorgeous covers and cryptic blurbs, but I know the truth. They are just pretending. Once I get to know them, they’ll be full of homophobic and/or misogynist drivel buried under hundreds of pages of ridiculous contrived dialogue. (Dear Authors: Speak character dialogue in public. If people run away, refer you to psychiatric services, or require emergency medical assistance because they just can’t stop laughing at you, it could be a sign that NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT. Adjust accordingly.)
I need to immerse myself in awesome before I can pull my TBR pile out from under the dirty laundry.
Alternately, I could wash those sheets…
Nope, it’s a re-read night.
I bought In the Garden of Iden at The Other Change of Hobbit in 2007. I went back two days later and bought the next three books in the series, plus a short story collection and a standalone novel I was assured could be read out of order. I was in school at the time and had to walk 90 minutes each way to the store because I couldn’t afford the bloody transit fare if I wanted those books. And I WANTED the books. Let this review serve as a warning: Kage Baker is addictive.
The basic premise of the series is science fiction. An Evil Corporation from the future (Seriously? Dr. Zeus? God-complexes aren’t even remotely ominous. Nope.) discovers both time travel and how to create near-immortal cyborgs. The downside to the latter is that it only works on children. Modern/future societal mores frown upon conducting scientific experiments on minors. Thankfully, the former provides an extremely handy way around that ethical inconvenience. They didn’t have Children’s Protective Services in the Roman Empire or Middle Ages. Awesome!
Now we can create an indebted workforce to help us mine profits from the past. Why try to change history? Things would get Timey-Wimey*. But using our future knowledge of past events to conveniently covertly preserve works of art, science and industry right before a catastrophic event? Well, that’s just bloody genius!
And that right there is pretty much the extent of the science fiction in this story. It is an excellent beginners-scifi novel. The premise is science fiction, but the story is historical fiction, with a dash of intrigue and espionage. And the characters are a hodgepodge of delightful, snarky, elitists – just as you’d expect from near-immortals socialized from infancy to do The Company’s work, who already know absolutely everything that is going to happen. Ever. (Well, up until 2355. Nobody knows what happens after that. Do you smell a series-long, over-arching mystery? Yes, you do.)
This book begins in the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, where we meet 5-year-old Mendoza right before she is saved from certain death by Agents of The Company. Mendoza absolutely makes this story for me. Here is an excerpt describing her first interaction with The Company:
There were two ladies on the ship, the beautiful señora and a little woman with red skin, also beautiful. She wore a pendant with a feathered serpent on it. She went and talked soothingly to the little Mixtec in (I assume) Mixtec talk. He calmed down. Afterward she and the señora leaned back on a cabinet and talked wearily, in yet some other language. They sipped something from white cups. Then the señora crunched hers in one hand and flung it into a bin. She came toward me, turning on her smile again.
“How are we doing, uh, Mendoza?”
“Fine.” I looked up at her. “Have you got any food?”
“Yes, we’ll be serving lovely food in just a few minutes. Are you bored?”
Not me, no, I’d been waiting for the ship to fall out of the sky and kill us all. I shook my head, and she said: “Would you like me to tell you a story?”
“Yes,” I said. So she settled into the cushions beside me and began:
“Once, long ago, when the world was very new, there was a queen and a wicked old king. This king’s name was Time. Now, he had heard a prophecy that his children would be greater than he was. Do you know what a prophecy is?”
Of course I did. I nodded.
“And he didn’t want this prophecy to come true, because he was very wicked and jealous. So, King Time did something very terrible. Do you know what he did?”
I could guess.
“Whenever the queen had a baby, the wicked king would steal it away. And then he’d eat it—whole—just like you’d swallow a grape.”
No way. He’d have to cut them up with a sword first. I folded my hands in my lap and waited to see what she’d say next.
“Yes, it’s terrible, I know, but the story has a happy ending. Because, you see, at last the queen thought of a way to fool the wicked king. The next time she had a baby, she hid it, and wrapped a big stone in its swaddling clothes, so the king swallowed the stone instead. The little baby was hidden far away on a magical island and tended by beautiful nurses.
“He grew up into a hero whose name was Blue Sky Boy. He was king of all the thunderstorms. He had a spear made of lightning! But he thought, always, of his poor brothers and sisters who were trapped inside King Time. So, as soon as he could, he went and did battle with the wicked king.
“Oh, it was a dreadful battle! Against his son, King Time sent his years. They were giants, those years, and they fought hard with Blue Sky Boy. His handsome body became thick with muscles, his smooth face became rough with black curly beard. But in the end he defeated the years and hurled a big bolt of lightning right through the heart of Time. Time stopped dead. He fell helpless on the ground.
“And Blue Sky Boy cut open Time and, guess what? Out popped all his brothers and sisters. There they were, alive again. And even though Blue Sky Boy was the youngest of them all, he became the new king over them because he alone had conquered Time. And they were all so grateful to him, they became his faithful subjects.
“Now, this is a very important story for you to remember. Did you like it?”
“Yes,” I said. “I know a story also. Want to hear it?”
So I told her the one about a man who kicks a skull out of his way as he goes along the road, and for a joke he invites it to come to his house for supper by way of apology, and that night it comes to his house and tears out his throat at the table. The señora didn’t seem to care for it much.
The little red lady was telling the Mixtec boy a story too. Probably something involving a fratricide.
Ahhhh, socialization. Some kids just won’t cooperate with their corporate-sponsored brainwashing. Troublemakers.
When we next see Mendoza, she has been sent to pre-Elizabethan England to preserve rare plants that are due to go extinct in the upcoming societal turmoil. Mendoza may be practically immortal, she may know exactly how all the politics are going to play out, but in the end – she’s still an 18-year-old girl. She’s a teenager who is out in the world for the first time, discovering that not everything is as she expected, and trying to find where she fits in. She butts heads with Joseph, her “father” (both because he “discovered” her in the Inquisition and is playing the part in their assignment), navigates friendships, falls in love, and struggles against gender/religious/race discrimination. Just because she knows it won’t last, doesn’t make it any less real.
I give In the Garden of Iden 5 Stars! (Just in case you were wondering, I would also give the sequel, Sky Coyote, 5 Stars.)
*Anyone catch my Doctor Who reference? Anyone? Bueller? [crickets].
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