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.