8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2003
In the Garden of Iden is Kage Baker's debut novel of "The Company." It's a science fiction novel set in the 1550s, during the reign in Britain of Queen Mary. Baker's fluid style is a joy to read and her transformation from "modern" English to Renaissance and back to modern is wonderful. This is a marvelous debut and I can't wait to read more in the series.
I've loved Kage Baker's work ever since I read her stories in the various Year's Best Fantasy books, and I was eager to dive into a novel written by her. It was definitely worth the wait. Her prose style is wonderful and she seamlessly changes dialogue depending on who's talking, thus giving us the dialect of the time alongside the modern phrasings of a group of cyborgs honed by time travelers. I'm not expert enough to tell whether or not she gets the Renaissance dialogue right, but she certainly makes it feel right. It really makes you feel like you are there listening.
Another thing Baker avoids, for the most part, is making the romance cloying. While there were a few times where Mendoza and Nicholas became annoyingly written, most of the time this was turned on its head by a choice comment from Joseph (the leader of the expedition and Mendoza's recruiter) or something else happening. She doesn't overwrite the romance scenes and she deftly "fades to black" when the sex scenes are about to start. Thus, while the novel definitely has some adult themes, there are no actual scenes that should keep kids away from the book. Instead, she writes two adults who love each other deeply but know that there are some serious potential problems that might get in the way of that love.
The concept of the Company is very interesting. Time travel and cyborg technology have been invented, so what they do is send operatives back in time to recruit local people, train them in secret facilities (bringing them up to modern standards), turn them into immortal cyborgs, and allow them to do the job of preserving things. They take samples of various things that will become extinct, hide them away for a thousand years, and then "discover" them again in the present. One of Baker's most inspired creations is a radio that broadcasts at a frequency that humans can't hear, and which operatives can listen to and find out what is going on locally. Thus, there is a news story about the reintroduction of Papal law in the British parliament, along with commentary similar to a CNN broadcast. It was very innovative.
Baker also does a credible job with the characters. All of the operatives (there are four) in the house are interestingly written and have some sort of way to keep them straight. Nefer is stuck in limbo while she's waiting for an assignment in northern England, and she's also the resident animal expert. Thus, she has an affinity for them and takes umbrage at what she sees as the torturing of a goat (the owner tried to graft a horn on its forehead and called it a unicorn). Joseph has the worn feel of a man who's been around for hundreds of years and has seen it all, but yet he knows exactly how it feels to be a first-time operative. He's incredibly understanding with Mendoza, forgiving her the jitters and mistakes that any rookie will have. He is a wonderful mentor to her as well. I didn't feel like I knew Flavius very well, but he's not in the book much so there isn't a reason to flesh him out further than he already is. The local characters have their character hooks and are recognizably different, but aren't anything special.
The romance would not work if Nicholas is badly done, so it's a good thing that Baker saved her best for him. He is well-rounded with intelligence and wit, and the verbal sparring between Mendoza and him is great. His beliefs are very strong, and he sticks to them through everything. Watching Mendoza try desperately to convince him to run away from the inquisition that is coming to England is almost heartbreaking. With the exception of a few times, the book sparkles when the two of them are on the page, and he is a worthy companion for Mendoza. When things start to go sour, it's on an understandable basis and Nicholas reacts as he should.
The plot is a bit slow-moving, but it is interestingly told. There are a few places it drags as Baker takes a detour to do a little philosophizing. The trigger event for the climax also feels a bit artificial as Joseph makes a mistake that I didn't really think he would make with his experience in the field. Then again, these people are human so mistakes do happen to the best of them. It just felt a little bit too much like it was there just so that the plot could start moving.
Baker has created a wonderful little sci-fi story and if she can continue to write this strongly, she will continue for a very long time. The fact that there are already 3 other books, along with a short story collection, bodes well for the success of the series. If you want something new to try, this would be a good one to start with. Even if you don't like science fiction, you might find something in here to enjoy.
on 23 March 2001
I remembered reading some short stories regarding Ms. Barker's Dr. Zeus world, and so picked up this book. Smart move. Fast paced, amusing, with a very interesting premise and consistent internal logic, this story of cyborg immortals sailing through the ages to rescue the really IMORTANT things (works of art and rare strains of holly...) is one of the most enjoyable books on my shelf. The only reason I gave it 4 stars and not 5 is because I felt the plot was a bit rushed at places - me want more exposition!!!
on 21 November 2012
It's hard to find an original voice and ideas in modern SF, but Baker shows them in this book. Yes, there are no spaceships; deal with it. Instead there are characterization, and some interesting ideas about history and what our attitudes to it should be, and a plot driven by the tension arising out of these. The next book in the series, Sky Coyote is even better, but it helps to have read this one first.