Review: In the Garden of Iden, Kage Baker

Embarrassing confessions can be good for the soul, so here’s one of mine.  Sometimes when I read a book by a new author, and I really really like it, and then I go to the library and see there’s a whole shelf of books by that author – sometimes, when that happens, I get a little internal sound effect of a deep, serious voice going “So it begins.”

Well, okay, always.  Every time that happens, I get the sound effect.  And it doesn’t always work out.  Sometimes the author breaks my heart.  Sometimes I accidentally read the best book first and must spend the rest of my life being let down by all the others.  Sometimes I read interviews and discover the author is kind of a poop, and then I have a hard time reading the books without thinking of that.

In aid of avoiding another Orson Scott Card situation, I’ve decided not to read anything about Kage Baker in case she turns out to be a poop, because I love the premise of this series.  This premise of this series is like the (shining and glorious) lovechild of Doctor Who and Diana Wynne Jones’s wonderful The Homeward Bounders.

About three hundred years into our future, a company called Dr. Zeus, Inc., has figured out how to do time travel.  You cannot travel into the future, you cannot bring anything forward out of its own time, and you cannot change written history.  What you can do is stack the deck your way.  The library at Alexandria has to burn, but that doesn’t stop you going back in time and having an agent make copies of all the books, and hide them for you to discover in your own present.  Agents of the company find children at different points in history, save them from death, and make them immortal.  These new immortals are promised shiny rewards in the present if they serve throughout history as agents for the company, rescuing books and paintings and endangered species.

I know, right?  How did I never hear of these books before?

Mendoza is saved from the Spanish Inquisition and made immortal.  Disliking what she knows of human beings, she decides to be a botanist, intending to minimize her contact with mortals.  However, her first assignment for the company is to collect rare plants from a garden in Tudor England.  Along with two other immortals, she will pose as a Spaniard come to England in the retinue of Prince Philip, with all the attendant fears and stresses of changing religions and an angry monarch.  Intending to keep out of the way of the mortals as much as possible, she finds herself falling in love with one of them.

A few things that are difficult to pull off, that Kage Baker pulls off:

  • Characters talking in Elizabethan English.
  • Explaining necessary historical background, especially historical background that I already know, in a way that is funny and interesting, though it’s possible she gives Elizabeth I too much of a pass.
  • Implying that there is More at Work Here than this book lets us in on, without the book’s ending being an obvious set-up for a sequel.  Do you know what I mean?  You get the sense that clues are being dropped, but the story of this book is self-contained.
  • Being wry without trying to be hilarious, or coming off as disaffected and unfriendly.
  • (Spoiler alert.  Stop reading and skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens in the end, although why you wouldn’t want to know I can’t imagine.) Killing off the love interest.

My one single eensy little complaint was that Mendoza, right, she falls in love with this sixteenth-century guy, and he’s completely okay with a lot of the crazy stuff that comes out of her mouth.  Okay, yeah, he’s held heretical religious views in the past, but even with that, and even accounting for his being in love with her, I think he’s just the tiniest smidge unrealistically tolerant and open-minded about religion for his time period.

Apart from that one thing, it was a good book that made me feel very excited to read the sequels.  I feel like intrigue and deception are forthcoming.  Thank you, trapunto!  This was a read for the Time Travel Challenge (haHA!  Thought I’d forgotten that one, didn’t you?  I HAVE NOT.)

Other reviews:

bookshelves of doom
Regular Rumination
Mervi’s Book Reviews

Did I miss yours?  Let me know and I’ll add a link!

  • I’ve had this book FOREVER but haven’t read it yet. I am also excited by the huge number of books in this Company series. One of my old book friends recommended Baker to me, and I’m excited to get started, though I might start with her stand-alone, The Anvil of the World.

    • I had that same reaction when I realized this was a long series, and I checked out The Anvil of the World to read instead. But then I read In the Garden of Iden and promptly returned Anvil and got the next four books in the Company series. The plot is thickening like mad.

      • Oh, good. I couldn’t get into Anvil of the World, and it is very unlike the company novels. It was kind of discworldy, and I think sort of a tribute to 50’s and 60’s pulp sci-fi.

  • anna

    dammit, jen, where’s that from? I hear it being said, but I can’t remember where!

    • I have no idea. I don’t know that it’s from anything particularly, I expect it’s been said dozens of times. They probably said it in Lord of the Rings, to give just one example, that’s the sort of sententious thing Gandalf WOULD say. Or Saruman.

  • Hm, looks interesting, but I must admit I’m scared of starting another series. I’m so tired of having multiple books to read…

    • Lu

      Amanda: You could read this one as a standalone, though I don’t know why you’d want to ;). Even though the books continue with the same characters, they stand alone pretty well. You could stop right here and not feel like you missed out on any story.

    • I second Lu’s opinion of this. Could perfectly well be a standalone. Like I said, it’s not sequel bait. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger AT ALL. When the book ends, the story’s over. Promise.

  • This sounds absolutely amazing! Time travel, future folk hiding in the past for missions… absolutely up my alley. Definitely adding this to my list, and thank you for bringing it to my attention!

    • Yay, I hope you like it! I’m in love with this premise. The whole series is addictive like crack cocaine. I finished this one on Friday and I’m already halfway through the fourth book.

  • I haven’t heard of this series, sounds interesting though. I do that with new authors as well 🙂 Sometimes is so disappointing, but sometimes you find true gems!

    • And isn’t it the loveliest feeling when you really properly discover a new author that has a bunch of books and won’t disappoint you? 🙂

  • I haven’t heard of this book either, but it does sound great!

    I know what you mean about being disappointed by books after the first one you read was really good. I am scared to read Rohinton Mistry’s other books as I loved A Fine Balance so much.

    Fingersmith was another of my favourite books and my second Waters book, The Little Stranger, was a bit of a disapointment. Hopefully the rest will be better, but again I’m a bit scared to try at the moment.

    • I think any book would be a letdown after Fingersmith! It’s so well-written and tightly plotted. But I definitely know what you mean. For me it’s usually the third book that lets me down. I’ll read two and love them absolutely wildly, and I’ll think I’m really on to something, and then the third book I read by the author will be the crappy one. It’s weird how often it happens that way.

      (Another possibility is that I shouldn’t read too many books all in a row by the same author.)

  • This series sounds so good! I heard of it recently (I think Lu at Regular Ruminations is to blame), but it took the Homeward Bounders reference for it to sink in how awesome it sounds 😛

    • I’m afraid to say anything here for fear of accidentally spoiling something, but – well, the Homeward Bounders comparison is proving more and more apt as the series continues. That’s what I would say. The more I read, the more it reminds me of Homeward Bounders. Except, you know, it’s only the Earth world and Earth history.

  • She

    O M G. I want to read this!

    • You should read this! This can be your next series reading project now that you’re finishing up Harry Potter. 🙂

  • Now I’m going to have another book to read, and it’s all your fault. 😉

    • To be perfectly frank, there are something like eight books in this series. So if you read it, and like it, I’ll be at fault for eight “another books” to read. Sorry! But, um, but at least they’ll be really exciting ones!

  • Eva

    This sounds like fun!

    Also, when I fall in love with a new author, I’m terrified to read a second book by them, in case it doesn’t live up to my love and adoration.

    • When I first discovered Salman Rushdie, I came up with this plan to avoid being disappointed later on. I read Midnight’s Children and loved it, and then I discovered that was his most critically acclaimed book. I thought, damn, it’s all downhill from here, so I decided that next I’d read his WORST book, knowing before I started that it was his worst, and that way I wouldn’t be disappointed and after reading that one not-as-good book, I’d be, like, inoculated against Salman Rushdie-related disappointment.

      Turns out, that was a rubbish strategy. The internets seemed to dislike The Ground Beneath Her Feet, so I got that one. It is my favorite of Rushdie’s books that I’ve read so far (still haven’t done The Moor’s Last Sigh or Shalimar the Clown), and the two I read after that (Fury and Shame) I didn’t like at all.

      The moral of which, I think, is that we cannot escape from the possibility that new authors won’t live up to our love and adoration. 😛

      • Eva

        LOL Oh Rushdie! 🙂 I enjoyed Shame more than you.

  • Why haven’t I heard of this before either? Why haven’t I already read it? Why am I still here when I could be going to the library to find it?

    • I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of these before either! They don’t appear to be obscure – a judgment I have arrived at after discovering a fairly detailed Wikipedia page about the titular Company. I am just sad I missed out on them for so long.

  • I haven’t heard of this before either but I agree with you, I am exactly the same way when I discover a new author! 🙂

    • It’s such a rush, finding a new author. Couldn’t possibly happen often enough for me.

  • Lu

    Don’t be afraid of the second book by Kage Baker! Sky Coyote is even better than In the Garden of Iden, in my opinion. I loved every minute of it!!

    • I am now no longer afraid! Because I went to the library Saturday morning and got the next four books and gobbled up Sky Coyote and Mendoza in Hollywood over the weekend, and now I’m halfway through The Graveyard Game. Are any future books going to disappoint me, or should I expect this series to continue being this great all the way through to the end?

      (I nearly had a heart attack when I went to Kage Baker’s website and found out she died earlier this year. And then I read on and discovered that she finished the series before she died, and I heartlessly felt much better.)

      • Do you like Lewis? (Or should I hold that question for a later post?)

        I found out she had died on the blog Bookgazing about a month ago. I was surprised how much the news affected me. There is the unfulfilled story-greed of course, but I also felt like I’d got to know her a little as a person, particularly in her last company book. And then, the recent book in the Anvil world had a sort of dreamy, nostalgic tone and some religious themes that seems prophetic in retrospect. I wondered if she knew she was ill when she wrote it.

  • You’re welcome!

    “Sometimes I accidentally read the best book first” This happens to me all the time, because I like to read books in chronological order, and I tend to like author’s first novels best. But not so with Kage Baker.

    “tiniest smidge unrealistically tolerant and open-minded about religion for his time period.” Ah ha. You have a point. But you’ll find she’s covered her derriere on this one, by and by. I also think Nicholas is as much Baker’s personal hottie from history as Mendoza’s, and maybe she just couldn’t quite bear to make him a typical zealot, not finding that an attractive quality. The first British edition of this book has an interesting cover: they actually made it look like a straight-up historical romance.

    • Hey! You were right! My one criticism turned out to be part of a Master Plan. 😛

      The cover of the library’s copy looks a bit like a historical romance, too – there’s another copy out there with a cover I love, but I haven’t been able to figure out where it’s published or whether it’s hardback or paperback. When I have money again, I want to see if I can get a nice matching set of these, which means it’s important that I find the very best set of covers.

  • Kathleen

    Hi there, all. Jenny, I’m Kage Baker’s sister, and I would like to thank you for all the nice things you and your readers say here. You all seem to be getting the points Kage was trying to make, which is always what pleased her most about her audience. Thanks from me, too.
    To set your mind at ease – she wasn’t a poop, like the odious Orson Scott Card. She was a wonderful lady, even funnier and more erudite and fun than her writing makes her sound. Go on and read the rest of her books – she wrote gloriously, and I don’t think you will be disappointed.
    And yes – she knew she was ill when she began to write the more spiritual fantasy novels. She wrote until the last week of her life, so determined she was to finish her work. She didn’t quite manage the trick, but there are still some books in the pipeline, and I am trying to complete the rest she left. I hope they will please.

    • Hi, Kathleen – thanks for stopping by. I am so very sorry for your loss. Your sister was an amazing writer, and she sounds like a wonderful person. I have three sisters myself, and I would be lost without them.

      I stayed up late last night to finish the fifth Company book, and am now kicking myself for not getting the sixth, seventh, and eighth ones out of the library too. You’re quite right! The subsequent books have not disappointed me at all. I’m excited to read everything else she’s written, and I’ve become a total evangelist for her work. Every person I know who reads fantasy, I’ve been telling to find and read these books. 🙂

  • Thanks for the review. (Found your site through the Time Travel Challenge.) This sounds like a great book. Just added to my TBR list.

    • I hope you enjoy it! It and the sequels are all lovely. 🙂

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