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In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker

In the Garden of Iden (1997)

by Kage Baker

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ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Rescued from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, feisty little Mendoza is enrolled in a special school and becomes a cyborg agent of The Company, a group of immortal merchants and scientists who travel backwards in time in order to make money for The Company and to benefit mankind in various ways.

Mendoza is educated and trained as a botanist and, for her first mission, she’s sent back to 16th century Europe to document and study samples from the famous Garden of Iden in England. She’s hoping to discover some extinct or rare species that she can analyze for medical use by future scientists.

Undercover as a Spaniard, at first Mendoza is afraid of the people she meets and despises them for their ignorance, brutishness, and lack of hygiene. But soon she discovers that some of them are not so bad, and then she even makes the mistake of falling in love with a mortal — an English Protestant mortal.

Set both in the 24th and 16th centuries, In the Garden of Iden (the first of Kage Baker’s The Company novels) is a unique historical science fiction romance. The metaphysics of time-travel and how The Company operates in time are clearly laid out (e.g., agents can’t bring anything into the future, but they can hide things in the past and recover them later), making the time-travel aspect of the story believable. Bloody Mary’s England makes a great backdrop for a historical novel — the Protestant Reformation is fascinating history and allows the exploration of racial, political, and religious conflict. It also makes a romance between a Spanish woman and an English man interesting — not to mention a romance between a human and a cyborg — although I thought Mendoza’s relationship developed too fast to be completely believable and satisfying. The climactic scene in which the English Protestant defends his faith in the face of persecution, and Mendoza starts to wonder if immortality is really such a blessing, is truly beautiful and moving.

What I liked best about In the Garden of Iden was the premise of The Company, which is run by the mysterious Dr. Zeus. Nobody seems to know who he is. Does he even exist? What are The Company’s plans and goals? Do they know what they’re doing or how their interference might change the future? I can’t wait to find out more.

I listened to Blackstone Audio’s production of In the Garden of Iden, which was narrated by Janan Raouf. It was a lovely performance, though sometimes I could not be certain whether the cyborg characters were speaking to each other out loud or on their special “channel” that only cyborgs can hear (this is indicated in italics in the book). It would have been nice to have some indication of that (perhaps a bit of static in the background?), but I was able to figure it out. I do hope that Blackstone Audio will be producing more of Kage Baker’s The Company novels. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Some interesting ideas, so I think I might try another "company" novel if Kage Baker found her feet as a writer. I think this might have been a first novel. It felt like it. I went on a trip, and didn't bother bringing the novel (started another off my hosts' shelves). Read the Doomsday Book instead. ( )
  acarrico | Jan 10, 2014 |
I enjoy the "Company" Novels and in this one, we begin to understand that there is a company, and its motives may not be particularly modest,, or benign. Good quality Kage Baker, and the many references to Henry VI by Shakespeare are clever. I read the 1997 hardback. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Oct 27, 2013 |
In the Garden of Iden is more of a romance hidden inside a historical fiction in a spec-fic coating. I'm sure people keep telling me that the rest of the series is different; there's nothing particularly wrong with this, but it wasn't really what I'd hoped for.

Really, I'd hoped for some overarching plot that would really tie it all together, love story and all, but that didn't really happen to my satisfaction, with the result that it felt like set up for all the wonderful things Mendoza (the main character) will do later. Or which other characters in the same world might do later, I don't know.

It's well written, and I love the central concept, but I've had just about enough of just pre-Elizabethan period Britain through the eyes of an immortal adolescent falling in love for the first time... ( )
  shanaqui | Oct 24, 2013 |
I'm a sucker for time travel stories and the premise of Kage Baker's The Company series is rife with possibilities. A mysterious 24th century corporation uses time travel to rescue endangered and extinct species from the past. Rather than sending 24th century agents into the past, they recruit their agents *from* the past. They rescue children from certain death, raise them, train them and turn them into immortal cyborgs.

Mendoza is one such Company agent. Rescued from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, she specializes in botany with dreams of gathering samples in the New World, far from the dangerous bloodthirsty mortals who are so ready to burn heretics at the stake on the flimsiest evidence. Instead, she is sent to England during the waning years of Mary Tudor's reign as the daughter of a Spanish physician to gather plants on the estate of the eccentric Sir Walter Iden.

In the Garden of Iden starts off promisingly, but it lags in the middle. There's not enough action and there's not enough history. There is a love story, however, as Mendoza falls in love with Sir Walter's secretary, the stern Protestant Nicholas Harpole. But what future can there be for a clandestine immortal cyborg and a mortal man? And how safe will the Spanish visitors be in an England of growing discontent under its Catholic (and Spanish) monarchy?

There are six novels in The Company series. I hope Baker developed the theme more deeply in later volumes. This is her first novel so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. ( )
  keeba | Oct 22, 2013 |
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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.
Right off, the title lets you know that this is a story about loss of innocence. If you're one of those people who are put off by obvious metaphors, don't let that stop you from reading this book. It manages to be quite funny and terrifying at the same time.

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For my mother, Katherine Carmichael Baker,
and her mother, Kate Jeffreys Carmichael,
and for Athene Mihalakis,
a Gray-Eyed Goddess if ever there was one.
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I am a botanist. I will write down the story of my life as an exercise, to provide the illusion of conversation in this place where I am now alone. It will be a long story, because it was a long road that brought me here, and it led through blazing Spain and green, green England and ever so many centuries of Time.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0765314576, Paperback)

In 16th-century Spain, everybody expects the Spanish Inquisition, as they have a well-known tendency to cart people off to their dungeons on trumped-up charges. What 5-year-old Mendoza, on the brink of being tortured as a Jew, is totally unprepared for is to be rescued by the Company--the ultimate bureaucracy of the 24th century--and made immortal. In return, all she has to do is travel through time on a series of assignments for the Company and collect endangered botanical specimens. The wisecracking, mildly misanthropic Mendoza wants nothing to do with historical humans, but her first assignment is to travel to England in 1553--uncomfortably close to those damn Inquisitors--with Joseph and Nefer, two other Company operatives. Their intent is to gather herb samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden, a foolish though generous country squire. (Kage Baker knows her Shakespeare: Sir Walter is the descendant of Alexander Iden, loyal subject of Henry IV, who slew the hungry rebel Jack Cade in that very garden in Kent.)

The cyborg trio poses as Doctor Ruy Lopez, his daughter Rosa (the irrepressible Mendoza, now grown), and her duenna, Doña Marguerita; Sir Walter's hospitality and discretion are bought for the promise of restored youth. (There are hilarious moments that call to mind the Coneheads, who claimed to be from France when caught doing anything peculiar.) Sir Walter's secretary, Nicholas Harpole, is immediately suspicious of and hostile towards the strange "Spanish" visitors, which prompts Mendoza to fall in love with him. Nicholas has his own badly kept secret: he's proudly Protestant at a time when Queen Mary and Philip of Spain are on a Catholicizing rampage. Mendoza knows Nicholas is probably doomed, and that as a Company operative she cannot meddle with his fate, but love makes people do desperate things. Baker surpasses even Connie Willis in humor and precision of period detail in this fresh, ingenious first novel.--Barrie Trinkle

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:02 -0400)

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Poor Mendoza. She's not thrilled about being sent to Renaissance England. It's a cold, backward, unsafe country. Gray curtains of rain. The food crawling with bacteria. No flush toilets. She won't get to see Shakespeare either. He hasn't been born yet. The English hate the Spanish like smallpox, especially now with bulldog-faced Mary on the throne. But Mendoza is no longer a frightened little girl in the dungeons of the Inquisition; she's a Company-trained botanist and has an assignment - to save Ilex tormentosum, a species of holly that will go extinct in a hundred years. She must save it for Dr. Z and the twenty-fourth century. Kage Baker, in her first novel, tells the story of a spunky young cyborg who, though an immortal operative, falls for Master Nicholas Harpole, a mortal with pale blue eyes, good legs, and a smooth, rich tenor that hangs on the air like a violin.… (more)

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