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5.0 out of 5 stars Blood Mary and the romantic problems she causes
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...
Published on Sept. 29 2003 by David Roy

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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but not her best.
I first discovered Kage Baker's books at Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati. A story about Elizabethan England by a teacher of the nuances of Elizabethan England? Swell, I thought. Let's just buy everything of hers on the shelf and sit down with a quiche and espresso to devour.
And devour I did. You see, the first thing you need to know about Baker is that she writes smooth,...
Published on May 27 2004 by V. Phin


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3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, but not her best., May 27 2004
By 
V. Phin - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I first discovered Kage Baker's books at Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati. A story about Elizabethan England by a teacher of the nuances of Elizabethan England? Swell, I thought. Let's just buy everything of hers on the shelf and sit down with a quiche and espresso to devour.
And devour I did. You see, the first thing you need to know about Baker is that she writes smooth, fast-paced prose. The conversations are believable, paragraphs are precise, and even the moments of Elizabethan English are quite readable. There are still lovely descriptive points in which she shows herself to be an author of colourful vocabulary, describing a scene in less time than it would take most authors, simply because she knows better words.
Garden of Iden is the first book in Baker's "Company" or "Dr. Zeus" series, and apparently her first book published, ever. For those who like history, you'll be visiting Spain and England primarily, during the Age of Exploration. For those who know a great deal about either, you'll be pleased to note that much of the historical details are correct; although to be honest, I can't speak as much about Spain as I can England. More on that later. For those who like science-fiction, there's the company called Dr. Zeus, which discovered time travel and immortality through scientific means and seeks to use their immortals to salvage things from the past. Although this isn't hard sci-fi with technical specifications (Baker strikes me as extremely right-brained), there's enough to get the wheels turning, even if it's a bit far-fetched.
For those who have made a study of the "Little Tudors", as I did, the overt praise of Queen Elizabeth is a bit much. She very much makes Queen Mary-- known to the Protestant future as "Bloody Mary"-- the villain. Kage even has darkness trailing behind Mary and Phillip at one point, and in the book her belief that Mary killed Edward VI and attempted to kill Elizabeth with heavy metal poisoning has become historical fact. It was a bit too overt to me, though Baker does a good job of making each of the characters have beliefs realistic to their types: thus, Mendoza the Immortal likes Elizabeth because of her frugality and avoidance of comflict, which makes historical things easier to retrieve; she hates Mary because she was recruited in the dungeons of the Inquisition, etc. Of course, one could argue that Baker created characters that would precisely agree with her. One can't know.
Garden of Iden was, despite these petty quibbles, a good read, though I will caution you: a great deal of sexual reference occurs, as the main character (Mendoza) falls in love with a mortal. There is quite a bit of gloomy foreshadowing throughout the entire book, as well. Beware of the tendency to think of human beings as irrational monkeys at the end. Just remember you're a member of the human race and are as capable of their feats of evil as you are their feats of goodness. For Christians, you may be offended that there don't seem to be any really praiseworthy believers (save Nicholas, and there's a twist to that, but I won't spoil the story), and that the main characters, especially Joseph, make fun of and degrade those who do believe.
I hope this review isn't as forbidding as it seems. I did enjoy reading the book. It rubbed me the wrong way in places, but the story is still very touching. I will continue to buy and read Baker's books, if that's any suggestion.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but slow paced, March 4 2004
I picked this book up after standing in the bookstore and reading the first few pages. The introduction about immortality and time travel caught my eye, so I bought it and brought it home.
Baker does a decent job of covering the information you need to dive into the story. She gives us background about The Company, she details how Mendoza goes through surgeries to become an operative, and she even sets up Mendoza's rescue from the hands of the Spanish Inquisition as a small child. There are some things she doesn't cover very well, like Theobromos and why the operatives are trained using mostly movies.
The novel isn't a fast paced book, but you don't really expect it to me. It takes place in a small garden in Kent, where the most exciting things are the changes in Iden himself, and the romance between Mendoza and Nicholas. I was laughing out loud when Joseph misjudged a time release drug that caused Iden to act like a man possessed.
The characters of the book are reasonably well rounded, I would say Joseph is the least fleshed out of the main characters. We know all about Mendoza, and through her relationship with Nicholas we learn much about him and his problems. I can only guess that Joseph doesn't get much billing because the second of this series is about him, and Baker wanted to establish Mendoza and her hang-ups before moving on.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Blood Mary and the romantic problems she causes, Sept. 29 2003
By 
David Roy (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
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.
David Roy
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read with a clever premise, May 4 2003
By 
Allen Gathman (Pocahontas, MO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Baker has come up with a variation on the "future do-gooders go back in time and meddle with history" theme, in which, in order to avoid paradox, the work is all done by people from the past. Children or teens who are about to die are recruited, modified physically so that they will live forever, and given assignments to preserve "lost" treasures from the past, which will later be "discovered" in the future by the Company. In this first episode, a girl known only as Mendoza is saved from the Spanish Inquisition and sent to England under Bloody Mary to preserve plants from a private gentleman's garden, the "Garden of Iden" of the title. She falls in love with a mortal, with disastrous and heartbreaking results.
The book is well-written in a direct, if not particularly artful, style. The characters and motivations are complex enough to avoid most of the usual cliches. In particular, Baker uses her scholarly knowledge of the Elizabethan era to depict the clashes between Catholic and Protestant forces in England with considerable depth and sympathy.
I haven't read any of the sequels, but if they measure up to this book, this series should be a source of considerable entertainment.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wildly entertaining, Feb. 26 2003
By 
I read a lot of science fiction and am continually amazed at the criticism of this genre for "not being scientifically accurate" It it's science you're after, try Scientific American or, for a more poetic venture, one of Dennis Overbye's fine studies. But don't read science fiction for detailed proofs of invisibility, ESP, teleportation or time travel.
I judge a science fiction book not only the originality of the ideas, but also on their plausibility within the context of the story. In this case, Kage Baker succeeds admirably not only in presenting a well-crafted tale but also by making the "science" of time travel interesting and familiar. She has taken a worn-out idea and transformed it into something new and wonderful with its own set of rules - a veritable world within the world. The idea of a conglomerate gaining a monopoly on time travel and using it just for these means is not only plausible but probable. The use of special children who trade death for servitude is very probable.
Mendoza, the heroine, is realistic - more than those superwomen of the future with their powers and weapons. Despite her near immortality - and despite warnings and quiet suggestions from Joseph, her rescuer/father confessor - she forms an emotional bond with a mere "mortal". The hide and seek game of possessing great powers and using them when no one is looking is always amusing. In this case, the greatest power of all is love, one that captured the heart of the botanist. Joseph anchors this story through memories, tales and dry wit. The writing is subtle, spare and beautiful and in the end one feels a great sympathy for Mendoza and unrequieted love.
The ideas in this novel are so original and so well presented that I will most assuredly purchase the next book in the series.
Is this a Romance novel crudely disguised as science fiction. If so, it was extremely enjoyable and I am looking forward to the next entry in the series.
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2.0 out of 5 stars This is Romance Not Science Fiction!, Feb. 14 2002
By 
"p_trabaris" (Naperville, IL United States) - See all my reviews
I have to admit that at first the story took off. The young orphan girl saved from the clutches of the evil Spanish Inquisition by the immortals, then they trained her to become an immortal, it is a great story line. The first 75 pages flew by. However, when the story got mired in pre-Elizabethan England it came to a complete halt. No story development, no character development and no crisis makes for a slow read. The plot seems to drag on and on, with no end in sight.
I have a feeling that the science fiction label was applied incorrectly, the story feels more like a romance. Even though the concepts of time travel and living forever are introduced early on in the book they are never developed. The main plot revolves around the protagonist Mendoza meeting and falling in love with a Calvinist-like reformer. However, even a good romance needs conflict and passion, there just isn't any.
It is obvious that Kage Baker is enthralled with Elizabethan England, I admit that the story has it moments. I find the language interesting and Bakers devotion to historical facts admirable. However, I find no character worth caring about. There does not appear to be anything special about the heroine Mendoza. She seems to float through the story and never develop into a strong character.
In the final analysis I cannot recommend this story. Which is a shame because I wanted this story to work. It's a clever concept and open to endless possibilities.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A TIME OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Jan. 20 2002
By 
Sesho (Pasadena, TX USA) - See all my reviews
Before I picked up this book I had pretty much been down on my luck when it came to reading a decent sci-fi novel. Like any genre, most of the books are not written well and it's sometimes hard to find the few authors that are good. I finally hit the jackpot with Kage Baker and boy, was I relieved.
In the 24th century a company known as Dr. Zeus has discovered not only the means to time travel but also the secret of immortality. Whether it was right to do so or no, it used its time travel capibility to effect events in the past so that in the 24th century, the company rules the world. There were some scientists that had signed on to the venture with the understanding that time travel would be used to help mankind. In an effort to do this the business types at Dr. Zeus go back to different time periods and create immortal agents from humans of the time. The mission of these agents is to save valuable cultural artifacts that would otherwise be lost forever.
Flash backward to 1500's Spain in the height of the Spanish Inquisition. A nameless child of an impoverished mother is imprisoned wrongfully and is set to be tortured. An agent shows up offering her freedom. She takes it. She becomes known as Mendoza and enters the process of becoming immortal. The agents are in actuality cyborgs who are stronger and faster than a human. I thought it was really cool that while the world goes about its business there is a secret society of immortals carrying on their business in underground facilities, or in remote areas. Their business being to preserve some of man's and nature's lost treasures.
Mendoza is sent to England and the Garden of Sir Walter Iden who is famous for having the most extensive samples of flora in the world. Her mission: to catalog and preserve extinct plant forms for the Company. She also falls in love with a mortal and thus begins the real meat of the novel.
To me, reading the synopsis on the back of the book, I thought it would be boring. But as I began to read it reminded me of another writer whose plots sound boring but when read are real treasures. I was reminded of Jane Austen. This book is really well written, especially the historical detail and feel. Baker was a teacher of Elizabethan English so I don't think it was much of a stretch to write about this time. Which is ok. An author's first work is usually written in a comfort zone. Not a lot really happened in this book. It is more a character driven story in which the interest is kept by the interaction of different personalities. The only complaint I have is that the love story sometimes, but not often, gets fluffy. The rules for effecting the past seem a little sketchy too. Overall, though, the idea of the book is fascinating and the prose style is interesting. It was nice to see a sci-fi novel with living breathing characters and an author who is well on the way to mastering her voice. I look forward to the second book in the series, Sky Coyote.
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2.0 out of 5 stars More romance than SF; more setting than story., Aug. 21 2001
By 
Daniel D. Webster (Boulder, Colorado United States) - See all my reviews
Kage Baker's "In The Garden Of Iden" operates on a fascinating premise wherein humans, enhanced to apparent immortality, roam the past undertaking missions set forth by a somewhat mysterious far future organization. It seems unfortunate, then, that the execution of the story falls well short of its potential. The story is told as a first person narrative, a style which appears to be growing in popularity among modern writers of speculative fiction, but which can be the most difficult fiction to write successfully, for the author's voice becomes so noticeably entangled with that of the narrator.
This somewhat minor complaint might be overlooked, but for an additional stylistic trend in the book. Baker appears to do a fine job of depicting 16th century times, customs, clothing and food. The narrator is a young girl/woman, 16th century born but educated and transformed by 24th century means. Yet she seems to narrate frequently in year-1997 slang expressions, which places her neither in the 16th nor 24th century, but in our present, well outside of the story. Such self-conscious parenthetical expressions as "wink wink" in the midst of what might otherwise be effective description can be excessively distracting.
Still, these things might be forgotten once caught up in a well paced and engaging story. More misfortune --- the story fails to engage. In fact, one might ask "what story?" Where dramatic tension might arise, nothing occurs. Where characters are bound toward burning suspense, the fire goes out. When characters do become excited, you wonder why. When a fire does erupt near the end, you already know what will happen. There is, in fact, no real sense that the story has anywhere to go, that the characters are really doing anything at all --- which may leave you wondering "so what's the point?" In the end it all seems to be about a young woman's interest in admiring her newfound handsome lover, where much of the time is spent in his arms or between his sheets. It left this reader wondering if this is actually a novel, or just a collection of the author's romantic daydreams supported by a dimensionless cast of fussy and droll characters.
From the perspective of the SF enthusiast, you may like this book if you like SF where the truly imaginative elements of the story are given little attention. But you may just as easily find that you regularly wish the author would elaborate at least a little, and not treat potentially fascinating technology and enhanced-human talents as vague afterthoughts. Even so, other reviewers have enjoyed this book. So from this reader's perspective, it may be that you will like this book if you also enjoy: period pieces, still life paintings, string quartets at low volume, Jane Austin and Edith Wharton, and Connie Willis' "To Say Nothing Of The Dog".
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fun SF/History novel!, July 21 2001
By 
"In The Garden Of Iden" (1997) is the debut novel of science fiction author Kage Barker. It is also the first novel in the "Company" series.
The novel introduces Mendoza, an operative of "Dr. Zeus Incorporated", or more commonly: the Company. The Company is an immensely powerful corporation in the 24th century, which preserves works of art and extinct forms of life by recruiting orphans from the past, making them as good as immortal and sending them into the past on specific missions. Mendoza is rescued from the Spanish Inquisition and sent to Elizabethan England to collect botanical samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden.
"In The Garden Of Iden" combines some of Kage Barker's strongest passions: she is an authority on Tudor-era England, has a strong interest in botany, and a preoccupation with conspiracy theories. The author (on her personal website) mentions that many of the characters in the novel were inspired by the eccentric scholars and street actors she worked with during her career in theater.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A "Bodice Ripper" in SF Cloathing, July 14 2001
By 
Frank Lawlor (Austin, TX United States) - See all my reviews
Let me put this briefly: If you like romance novels, you will like this. Otherwise stay away.
As other reviews have pointed out there are many themes here that could have made for a geat SF novel, but none of them are really developed.
The characterizations are one-dimensional except for the main character, who maybe makes a 2D. Most of her development relates to her "first love". Unfortunately most of this reads like a romance novel:
"My love, my love. At night we cuddled together under the blanket and read by the light of his single candle, or talked far into the dark hours. He would never give over his attempts to persuade me that I needed his Christ; and I could never resist the temptation to argue the need to save men's lives rather than their souls. Yet he had some remarkably advanced ideas for a man of his time, he really had."
"Mine only love. The household slept below in silence; our little room seemed cut adrift, the cabin of a ship sailing through the vaster silence of the winter stars. How can anyone think that my lover was a paltry mortal thing? He was an immortal creature like me, and we dwelt in perfect harmony in a tiny world of bare boards and dust, leather an vellum."
"You can love like that but once."
Lets hope so.
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In the Garden of Iden
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (Paperback - Dec 27 2005)
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