Most helpful critical review
Well written, but not her best.
on May 27, 2004
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.