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4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fiction, Immortality and Time Travel
Little Mendoza may be the only one in 16th century Spain who doesn't expect the Spanish Inquisition to be all that bad. Our fiery-tempered child heroine was innocent, after all, when they swept her up with the pagans who were planning to sacrifice her. Before she can experience their harsher attentions, Mendoza is rescued and given a new life as an immortal who will...
Published 17 months ago by John M. Ford

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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fiction, Immortality and Time Travel, Feb. 18 2013
By 
John M. Ford "johnDC" (near DC, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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Little Mendoza may be the only one in 16th century Spain who doesn't expect the Spanish Inquisition to be all that bad. Our fiery-tempered child heroine was innocent, after all, when they swept her up with the pagans who were planning to sacrifice her. Before she can experience their harsher attentions, Mendoza is rescued and given a new life as an immortal who will spend centuries working to preserve the treasures of history.

Mendoza's employers are time travelers from the far future who rescue children in mortal danger. The children are made immortal and prepared for service in the Company. The Company becomes rich in the future by "rediscovering" extinct species and lost treasures tucked away by Mendoza and her colleagues throughout the centuries. In return, the Company provides long life and access to the amenities of the future--such as chocolate and air conditioning.

Mendoza's first assignment is to infiltrate Elizabethan England and obtain rare plant samples from the botanical garden of Sir Walter Iden. Readers get an on-the-ground view of this period in England's history. We also feel the excitement and pain as Mendoza falls in love with a mortal who, no matter how she tries to avoid it, must someday die.

The author's writing skill endows the love-lived characters with a weary wisdom. Responding to Mendoza's sarcastic references to reincarnation, a team leader ten thousand years her senior snaps, "It's realer than you think. There are only so many personality types among mortals. They just use the same ones over and over. Zealots like your Nicholas keep turning up, and every time they do, they make trouble for everybody." What might it mean to have thousands of years of experience with human personality? A writer can only hint at the answer, and Kage Baker does so skillfully.

Kage Bakers first book in the Company series is highly recommended for fans of science fiction's immortality tales, from Robert Heinlein's The Notebooks of Lazarus Long to Poul Anderson's The Boat of A Million Years. The pace is sometimes slow, but allows us to feel the deepening relationship between Mendoza and Nicholas. Readers who savor the sweet pain of time travel romance should read this book, then continue with Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. Those who want to follow Mendoza career in the Company can pick up the next installment, Sky Coyote.
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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
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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 I enjoyed this book, April 9 2004
By 
C. L. Munson "abczen" (Fort Mill, SC United States) - See all my reviews
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I had seen these books in the library and finally decided to try one out. I have mostly been in the mood lately for humorous and well written novels. This one fit the bill. Also the premise of immortals salvaging lost species from the past for the profit of "The Company", and the moral ambiguity involved in this enterprise is timely. The love story is strong and quite nice. The reminders of our heroine being young and in some ways extremely sheltered made the intensity of her feelings realistic instead of maudlin.
I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
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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
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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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3.0 out of 5 stars Original? Yes. Sci-Fi? No., April 27 2003
By 
T-Rex (Tokyo, Japan) - See all my reviews
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker certainly is original but this is not a Sci-Fi. This is a historic romance in a sci-fi disguise. So those who enjoy romance may enjoy this book but this is not for Sci-Fi readers. This may be a new genre called "Sci-Fi for Women". No offence, but not for me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wildly entertaining, Feb. 26 2003
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! A Great Debut - looking forward to more by this author, Jan. 22 2003
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Truly original novel with a great mix of history and future. I cared about the characters and there are several places where it was almost too painful for me. This made me think more of Connie Willis' Doomsday Book than her others. If you like this one, you might also try Sheri Tepper's most recent novels. I'm looking forward to more by this author and hope she can keep this high level in future novels of "The Company".
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5.0 out of 5 stars loved it!, Oct. 12 2002
By 
J. Gabrielson (Kirkland, Wa) - See all my reviews
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I couldn't put it down...I plan to read the entire series.
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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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