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.)
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