Rereading Kage Baker

Rereading Kage Baker’s Company Series: In the Garden of Iden, Chapters 7-10

Welcome to this week’s installment of the Kage Baker Company series reread! Today we’ll be covering chapters 7 through 10 of In the Garden of Iden. Word of warning: this post ended up a bit longer than expected because there’s a lot more to talk about in these chapters than I remembered, so grab a snack before you dive in!

You can find the reread’s introduction (including the reading order we’ll be following) here, and the index of previous posts here. Please be aware that this reread will contain spoilers for the entire series. I’m not kidding, people: don’t read this if you haven’t read the eight core novels in the series yet.

And with that, off we go!

 

Chapters 7-10

Summary: July 21, 1553. Mendoza arrives back in Spain after her training in Terra Australis. From there, she will travel to England in the same Spanish fleet that will also deliver Mary’s intended husband Philip, thousands of members of his court, and so much future bloodshed.

However, before this, Mendoza spends a year in Spain establishing her cover identity, playing Rosa, the most chaste and demure daughter of Dr. Ruy Anzolabehar—in reality Joseph, the immortal who recruited her. The zoologist Nefer, who will be playing Mendoza’s formidable duenna, will also accompany them on the mission, while Eva and Flavius, the two other immortals traveling with them, will move on to other assignments after their arrival in England.

Mendoza initially finds it difficult to get over her fear of mortals, but gradually Nefer and Joseph manage to convince her to leave her room and attend the obligatory daily Masses. Nefer even broaches the subject of sexual contact with mortals, which both repels and fascinates Mendoza. One evening during a lightning storm, Mendoza generates a large amount of Crome’s radiation.

Eventually the team sets sail for England, where, after an uneventful but thoroughly unpleasant journey, they are welcomed by the Facilitator Xenophon, who embarrasses them in front of a crowd of Spanish-hating Englishmen and conveys them to a Company safe house. There, they clean up after the horrendous journey, get a brief lecture on how to survive in England, and get their assignments.

On July 22, 1554, a year and a day after Mendoza’s return to Spain, Joseph, Mendoza and Nefer board the secret Company underground railway to Kent, eventually making their way to the estate of Walter Iden. After being greeted by the most Catholic Francis Ffrawney, they meet Sir Walter Iden, who remarks how youthful Dr. Ruy looks. (Joseph explains this is all due to “a certain Greek physick.”) They also meet Iden’s secretary Nicholas Harpole, who is extraordinarily tall and dressed in a severe black scholar’s gown. Mendoza is immediately quite taken with young Master Harpole, and Joseph suggests it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Mendoza to help convince Harpole that the Spanish papists running around in his employer’s garden aren’t necessarily evil.

 

Commentary: These four chapters form the transition between the introductory chapters we’ve read so far and the start of the plot in Iden’s Garden. We begin with Mendoza as she disembarks from her transit shuttle from Terra Australis to start her first real mission, and end on the evening of her first day in Iden’s estate. The pace is about to change dramatically: the first 10 chapters of the novel have covered about 14 years, but after this the rest of the novel will take place in just about one year.

Note how differently Mendoza describes the transit lounge this time around, compared to when she was leaving Spain before her training just a few short chapters ago. The incomprehensible people with silver clothes she saw as a young child are now ”people in flight-tech coveralls”; the silver lines are “service hoses”. The disinterested clerk and the general shabbiness of the waiting area all seem to indicate that the Terra Australis honeymoon is over, the sense of wonder is gone, and now it’s time to go to work. Mendoza is both more knowledgeable and (already) more world-weary, but when she steps on Spanish soil for the first time in a decade, the beauty of the Spanish landscape affects her strongly. “I was shaking badly. It wasn’t supposed to be beautiful.”

However Mendoza ended up with that AAE on her file, it’s clear that she needs it: she continues to show fear and strong dislike, not to say hatred, towards most mortals, and feels unsafe when she has to rely on anything made by mortals. She scans her first driver thoroughly for any defects or structural flaws. She also scans the horses and the coach, and later the ship that will take her back to England. Mendoza expresses surprise that the landscape is relatively peaceful, lacking the gibbets and bonfires full of human ashes she was expecting.

Mendoza initially hides in her rooms to avoid mortals and their unpredictable mood swings, but Nefer manages to explain to her that she’s perfectly safe with them. She even mentions that immortals have been known to sleep with mortals, which both scandalizes and fascinates Mendoza. One of my favorite scenes in these chapters can be found about midway through chapter 7: Mendoza is trying to pry more information about this exciting new subject out of Nef, while Nef desperately tries to change the topic. When she gets Mendoza going about her maize cultivar, Nef’s eyes quickly start glazing over, but of course Mendoza shows just as little interest in Nef’s speciality.

(Quick jump to the very end of the series: in The Sons of Heaven we learn that Nefer was once in a group marriage with Suleyman, Sarai, and the same Nan we met during Mendoza’s training days. I’m not sure if Nef is referring to this when she says that sexual recreation with other operatives is “sort of dull” and “uncomfortable” but Suleyman always strikes me as one of the more uptight characters in the entire series. So… Well. I’ll just leave you with that image.)

During a lightning storm Mendoza walks out of the house and starts generating Crome’s radiation. Aside from a subtle hint back in the dungeons of the inquisition, this is the first real indication that something may be wrong with Mendoza. This also marks the first time the term “Crome’s radiation” is used in the books. We don’t get much information yet about what it is or does, but Joseph already makes it very clear that it’s Not a Good Thing for an immortal and implies that none of the possible repercussions would be very enjoyable for Mendoza if the Company finds out. This is another strong early hint that the Company isn’t going to win Employer of the Year in any of the millennia they’ve been active in. Witness Mendoza’s panic, induced by her friendly recruiter/mentor/father Joseph:

“Look, I tested out normal!” I said in a panic. “I’m sure I’m all right.”

“Don’t let me down, Mendoza,” he said. “I recruited you, remember? If it wasn’t for me, you’d be out there in the zoo with the rest of them.”

“What do you want me to do?” I could feel sweat starting. There was a creepy sense of déjà vu to this conversation.

“Watch yourself. Don’t do anything dumb. Be the best little agent you can be, and you’ll probably do fine.”

As to what Mendoza really experiences during this short Crome’s episode, and how meaningful it is at this point—well, your guess is as good as mine. The scene uses the same kind of hallucinatory language as the crucifix scene back in chapter 3, but the vision or premonition (if that’s what it is) is more centered on nature than religion. Mendoza smells orange trees, which could be a premonition of Iden’s Garden or could just be, well, random Spanish orange trees somewhere in the distance. She also smells green-cut hay, rain, and fever. She sees that “each stalk of wheat circled through its endless arc,” which reminds me of the way she causes plants to grow extremely quickly in the latter part of the series, but that’s probably taking the interpretation too far.

Unless anyone has a better idea at this point, I think the main purpose of this scene was not whatever meaning may be implied in the vision, but rather 1) introducing the concept of Crome’s radiation, which will become a huge plot element as the series progresses, 2) emphasizing the fact that Crome’s is something the Company actively avoids in its recruits, and 3) making it clear that Mendoza is a Crome generator. This also explains why the technician back in chapter 3 was nervous during his conversation with Joseph: we’ll learn in Sky Coyote that Mendoza actually measured way off the scale in terms of permissible levels of Crome’s, and that Joseph pretty much made the tech fudge the numbers during Mendoza’s recruitment. (Now read the second line in that snippet of dialogue I just quoted again to get an idea of exactly how manipulative a bastard Joseph is.) Eventually we’ll also learn exactly why the Company is so concerned with Crome generators, but that’s a rabbit hole we’ll explore once we get there.

I love how Kage Baker describes the preparations for the journey between Spain and England, from the harbor scenes that contrast the fancy dress of the Spanish grandees to the stink of the harbor town and especially the gloomy appearance of the most Catholic Philip, metaphoric clouds of darkness trailing in his wake. What an image. “Did we really see mortal evil somehow incarnate there?”

Then we brush over the miserable passage to England to land in the slapstick comedy of Xenophon shepherding his Spanish colleagues through the gauntlet of enraged Englishmen and to the safety and security of the local Company safehouse (named “Jove His Levin Bolt” or ”The Lightning Bolt of Jupiter/Zeus”—the Company likes its little jokes). The slapstick scene (and later the confrontation with three pitchfork-waving mortal males in chapter 9) makes it very clear that the religious tension of the Counter-Reformation is building in England and also shows exactly why having a Facilitator around is so important for Preservers.

This is also when Mendoza learns how hard it can be to build lasting friendships when Company operatives are shuttled around from mission to mission. Of the four others in the team she just spent a full year with (Joseph, Nefer, Flavius and Eva) only two will continue on with her to Kent. She’ll never see Flavius again, and Eva only once in transit. Or as Mendoza says:

This was the first time I had any inkling of how alone we really are. I had been thinking of my team as a family, getting used to everyone’s little quirks. But we weren’t a family. Well, I was new then, and hadn’t learned yet that that’s life in the service.

Further transit happens using the “famous Company underground” railroad, which is one of those absurd but utterly delightful little touches I wish we saw more of. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other time it was mentioned, in the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society novel Not Less Than Gods.

Joseph’s theatrical side is on grand display throughout these four chapters. From his faux temper tantrum when Flavius says he may not get the matrices for the “diant units” done in time (whatever those are—I don’t think we see that term again in the rest of the series), to acting as if he is looking for the Iden estate when his built-in cyborg GPS can do all the navigating, to the slapstick comedy when he first comes ashore in England, this is clearly a guy who enjoys being in the center of attention. One of these scenes gets explained as “isometric exercises to maintain human emotions”, which makes a lot of sense for a 20,000 year old being, maybe in the same way an astronaut needs to exercise regularly to maintain bone and muscle density. However, it’s mainly just old Joseph enjoying being the center of attention. Despite him being a slimy, manipulative bastard, you have to admit that it makes for some fantastically entertaining scenes throughout this series—especially when you get him together with Lewis!

Once we get to Iden’s estate, the author uses broad strokes to quickly establish the characters of Sir Walter Iden (frumpy, a bit silly), Francis Ffrawney (with his “crucifix the size of a shovel”) and Nicholas Harpole (stern, full of “icy Protestant dignity” and clearly disapproving of his employer’s Spanish guests.) We also see that Mendoza immediately, from minute one and despite all her misgivings about mortals, falls head over heels for Nicholas. At this point, there’s something endearing and almost comical about the way she doesn’t know how to deal with these emotions, from the characteristically understated “How interesting, I thought to myself” when she first lays eyes on him to “He inclined perfunctorily to me, then strode from the room. I watched him go. I couldn’t fathom it. He smelled good.”

Even in the brief introductory scene in Iden’s garden, we already get lots of details about Nicholas that will prove to be meaningful later in the series, although a first time reader at this point could have no idea yet what’s really going on. Kage Baker emphasizes more than once how beautiful Nicholas Harpole’s voice is. His broken nose is already pointed out, as is his extreme height. His remarkable intelligence shines through several times, e.g. when Mendoza notices his machine-like speed-reading in the final scene of chapter 10. None of these characteristics are all that extraordinary by themselves, but they’re all examples of how different Nicholas is from the other Englishmen we’ve met so far. Exactly how different he is we’ll only learn in The Life of the World to Come.

Jack Cade, in the story told by Nicholas Harpole and then hilariously reenacted by Sir Walter, is an actual historical figure and the leader of a popular revolt about 100 years before the events portrayed in this novel. What completely took me by surprise when I was doing research for this reread is that the story of Iden’s ancestor capturing Cade is actually based on historical fact too. I always assumed that the name Iden was chosen for the obvious religious connotations of the Garden of Eden, but no, there really was an Alexander Iden in Kent (though to be fair, he was a High Sheriff rather than a knight—probably an embellishment by his descendant Walter.)

The “ilex tormentosum” bush is the first big find in the botanist Mendoza’s career, as it can be used to help cure liver cancer and it will go extinct in the future. At this point I’m going to go ahead and confess here that I know next to nothing about botany (as opposed to Kage Baker’s sister Kathleen Bartholomew, who majored in biology) so if there are any secret hints in all the Latin names for plants that are liberally sprinkled throughout the series, I hope one of our wonderful commenters can help out.

Towards the end of chapter 10 Joseph suggests that Mendoza hook up with Nicholas. Joseph is by now aware that Mendoza is developing feelings for Nicholas, but it’s still one of the most poignant examples of exactly how callous and manipulative he is. He’s obviously thinking of the mission first and foremost and has no idea at this point what he’s setting in motion. Mendoza is shocked speechless. It’s also telling that, just a few chapters back, Nefer introduced the idea of sex with mortals as something fun. In Joseph’s speech, there’s no trace of romance: he strongly suggests it to Mendoza as part of the mission and rationally lays out all the reasons why it should happen. What an introduction to adult romance for this poor, newly minted and already psychologically scarred immortal, right?

 

Unconnected but interesting tidbits: In the scene where Joseph introduces Mendoza to the servants in Spain, the clever double-talk in Joseph’s greeting to Mendoza is just perfect: “How did you find the Convent of the Sisters of Perpetual Study, my child?” Mendoza doesn’t miss a beat in her response stating she is “everlastingly in their debt. And in yours.” No one did bittersweet humor better than Kage Baker.

The fictional movie mentioned in these chapters is a Spielberg remake of the silent movie classic Metropolis. I love Nef’s on-the-fly but perfectly in-character explanation that the image of the movie’s heroine Maria is an iron lady. (Also note Nef’s sly dig at Erich Von Daniken-like crackpot theories about anachronism: everyone thinks they’re crazy—“In this century, at least.”)

Kage Baker’s mastery of period-authentic English is on glorious display in these chapters and throughout the rest of the novel. Her author bio stated that she “has been an artist, actor, and director at the Living History Centre and has taught Elizabethan English as a second language.” It’s easy to imagine this, reading the wonderful dialogues in this novel.

It’s amusing that Mendoza keeps looking for cowslips, osiers, and weirs, which she’s probably seen mentioned in English novels so often that she expects England to be covered in them. I also love her reaction to the spectacularly green English landscape, which must have been a huge contrast compared to the Australian outback and northern Spain: “No wonder the English had a reputation for rowdiness. They must have been drunk on pure oxygen their whole lives.”

And that, my friends, is it for this installment of the Company series reread!

Stefan Raets reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. You can find him on Twitter, and his website is Far Beyond Reality.

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