Welcome to this week’s installment of the Kage Baker Company series reread! In today’s post, we will cover chapters 11 and 12 of In the Garden of Iden.
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.
For this week’s post, I decided to try something different and do a separate summary and commentary for each chapter, rather than dealing with both chapters at the same time.
Summary: During the team’s first breakfast at Sir Walter Iden’s estate, Mendoza asks if she can eat one of the oranges she spotted in the garden. Iden suggests that Nicholas accompany her to pick some; Joseph makes sure “duenna” Nefer leaves them alone. The tension between Mendoza and Nicholas boils over when she offers him some of the fruit, but after a display of Mendoza’s erudition and critical thinking, they discover they have more in common than they thought. By the time they re-enter the house, they’re friends.
Commentary: The garden scene in chapter 11 is one of my favorite parts of this novel. When it starts out, Mendoza is apologetic for inconveniencing Nicholas, and Nicholas is cold and standoffish. From that point on, the scene becomes a dance where the steps are intellectual and theological arguments. When the dance is over, Nicholas and Mendoza see each other in an entirely different light.
What I absolutely love about this scene is that the precise moment Nicholas drops his coldness towards Mendoza is not when she’s being flirty or coquettish like in the next chapter. It’s when she drops out of her role as a dutiful and demure Spanish Catholic girl and shows her true personality that Nicholas’ eyes are opened. And, vice versa, it’s when Nicholas expresses some of his private beliefs that her feelings for him deepen.
It’s interesting to look at how that first conversation/debate between Mendoza and Nicholas develops. Mendoza first gains his full attention when she angrily demonstrates how many languages she speaks and quotes Scripture. Then Nicholas gets an example of her critical thinking and powers of observation when she immediately sees the unicorn for what it really is. The final step is Mendoza’s willingness to apply that same critical thinking to religious doctrine, such as the need to eat fish on fast days (referring to Ichtyophagia, one of the Colloquies by Erasmus.)
Once Nicholas realizes that Mendoza is an educated freethinker like he is and not a heretic-burning Spaniard, he feels comfortable enough to express his contempt for the Church of England, whose leaders have by now either recanted under pressure or fled to Germany, and to express his own beliefs about the fallibility of the Church and the need to strive for a better world, not just through prayer and contemplation but through action. He gradually drops his shields and reveals more of his true beliefs, even while Mendoza does the same. He even hints that he’s gotten in trouble before for getting carried away, although we don’t learn why and how badly until later.
Another reason I enjoy this scene so much is the way Kage Baker deals with the symbolism of the fruit and the garden. When Mendoza offers Nicholas some of the orange, the parallel with the Garden of Eden and the apple is so obvious that Nicholas recoils, Mendoza sarcastically notes “such subtle symbolism”… and that’s it. Some authors would overdo this kind of imagery; Kage Baker uses it as the catalyst for Mendoza’s angry outburst, and then lets it rest. Of course returning readers know that there’s actually something to this Adam and Eve comparison—a rabbit hole we will explore in a much, much later post!—but Kage Baker, in all her wisdom, didn’t overdo it at this point. (Related: in a comment on last week’s post, Kage’s sister Kathleen mentioned that the working title for this novel was The Botanist Mendoza and that it was the novel’s original publisher who picked In the Garden of Iden.)
Something else that’s pretty much impossible for first time readers to get at this point is the reason for how persuasive Nicholas can be. Mendoza says “I think you could move mountains with your speech…”, and right after he promises he will persuade her to his faith, she thinks: “I ought to have heard warning sirens then, my heart ought to have run for a shelter.” Note that, when Mendoza is writing this scene in her diary in Back Way Back, she still doesn’t actually know who or what Nicholas is. She still has to be hit by the Big Revelation about Adonai at this point, but she already notes how dangerously persuasive he can be and senses trouble on the horizon.
When Nicholas and Mendoza return to the house, Joseph makes it clear that he was listening in on at least part of their conversation, saying he (Nicholas) “seems to share some of your interests.” So we know that Joseph cares enough about Mendoza’s progress with Nicholas to use his enhanced senses to check in on them during at least part of this scene.
Speaking of enhanced senses: at the end of chapter 11, Mendoza asks Nefer if she’s scanned Nicholas. Nefer replies: “Not closely.” (No wonder, since she’s not nearly as interested in him as Mendoza is.) Mendoza’s next lines suggest that she has scanned Nicholas, presumably just like she scanned other mortals in previous chapters, though for entirely different reasons. She just says he’s so healthy and “perfect” (ha!) and adds that he’s “a lot like one of us” (ha again!), but no one seems to have noticed anything else unusual about this very unusual mortal.
I don’t think something like those 46 extra chromosomes would show up in a cursory scan, but you’d think a few more obvious characteristics would stand out, like maybe the unusual articulation of his shoulders and neck that’s mentioned several times throughout the series. Over in the 24th Century, people comment frequently on young Alec’s unusual appearance, but the first time his true nature is in danger of being revealed is when he has blood tests done, forcing the Captain to fudge the results. I guess the Adonai were just designed so well they can pass a cursory scan by immortals? (The real explanation is probably much more prosaic: the plot for most of the series would fall apart if anyone noticed at this point that Nicholas is not a normal human being, and so no one can notice.)
In the final scene of the chapter, Nefer tells Mendoza she shouldn’t feel pressured into doing anything with Nicholas, which is 1) a nice counterpoint to the discussion with Joseph in the previous chapter and 2) a bit unnecessary now Mendoza is coming around to appreciating at least this particular mortal. Nefer also reveals that she knows about Mendoza’s AAE, which once again shows that Dr. Zeus isn’t big on generally approved Human Resources standards. However, to be fair, in an undercover operation like this one all members need to know if one of them has an issue that could jeopardize the mission, so I can understand this Company policy.
Summary: The next day in the garden, Mendoza is flirting with Nicholas and trying to learn more about his life. He warns her to be more discreet when talking about religion. Xenophon reappears delivering some of Joseph’s medical tools and chemicals and, to Nefer’s delight, a field radio. Nicholas guesses Dr. Ruy is an alchemist or a hermetic philosopher. When Nicholas speculates whether Dr. Ruy is a Jew, Mendoza has a trauma-induced panic attack. Mortified, she avoids contact with the mortals for four days. When she resurfaces, Francis Ffrawney warns her about certain dark details from Nicholas’s past.
Commentary: This chapter starts out on a lighthearted note, but quickly takes a turn for darker territory. In the first garden scene, Mendoza is being positively flirty with Nicholas in the garden. What a change from just a few chapters back! She’s also abandoned all pretense of being a proper Spanish Catholic when she’s alone with Nicholas, shocking him when she speculates whether Jesus was a virgin at 33. Nicholas warns her to be more careful about expressing such revolutionary ideas, especially (after Mendoza asks) around Francis Ffrawney. (How ironic is that, knowing how Nicholas will come to his end?) Nicholas lays the blame for Mendoza’s outspokenness squarely with Joseph/Dr. Ruy and the way he raised her, musing that he would like to have her father beaten.
When Mendoza asks why Nicholas didn’t enter the Church after his Oxford education, he answers “I lack personal discipline” —one of those unassuming little lines of dialogue that mask a world of grief in his past, as we learn later in the chapter.
Xenophon is so much fun, isn’t he? I wish we saw more of him later in the series. Just imagine the craziness he and Joseph could come up with! In any case, comic relief or not, Xenophon’s delivery sets up at least three important bits we’ll need for the rest of the story. First, Joseph gets his medical supplies. Secondly, Nefer (and the reader) can now get updates on the political and religious situation in England. (And how wonderful is the entire concept of the KZUS radio station?) Finally, the design of the radio, which is disguised to look like a model of the Ark of the Covenant (even if Mendoza thinks the cherubim are “a couple of golden birds, or something”) and which supposedly contains a holy relic, provides the perfect lead-in to the next scene.
Based on Mendoza’s explanation of the chest’s contents, Nicholas guesses (incorrectly) that Dr. Ruy is a hermetic philosopher and an alchemist. When he asks whether Dr. Ruy has studied Vitruvius, Mendoza ”did a fast access and discovered that he was talking about early, early science and technology, which only secret societies and clandestine brotherhoods were concerned with right now.” Double irony alert: as we know from later novels, many of the early iterations of Dr. Zeus, Inc. were actual secret societies throughout history, often led by hermetic philosophers such as Nicholas’ contemporary John Dee. (I don’t remember offhand if Vitruvius is mentioned elsewhere in the series, but he’d probably be a prime candidate for this too.)
When Nicholas guesses (incorrectly) that Joseph is Jewish, Mendoza experiences a severe anxiety attack brought on by the Company’s deep psychological conditioning: rather than erasing or blocking Mendoza’s memories of her time in the dungeons of the Inquisition, the Company has used them as a means to motivate and control her. It’s no wonder those immortal operatives think that the work is all that matters: they’ve been conditioned to revert to their worst traumatic memories if they stray off-track.
During the ensuing conversation in Nicholas’ room, Nicholas argues that God is love, while Mendoza says He is “cruel and irrational.” The depth of Mendoza’s despair shocks Nicholas:
Nicholas’s voice was quiet. “This is truly the Devil’s work: not women rolling on the floor and spitting toads, but this, the despair that you wake and sleep with.”
During their debriefing after this episode, Joseph gives Mendoza a little lecture about learning to put emotional distance between herself and the character she plays. Mendoza is fuming, which is understandable: no teenager likes getting lectured by an adult after a breakdown, let alone by a 20,000 year old adult. Still, it’s good advice from a more experienced operative, and clearly something Mendoza needs to work on. Sadly, she won’t master this skill any time soon.
That conversation contains another prime example of Joseph’s manipulative ways. When he suggests (in his “jolly avuncular way”) that Mendoza and Nicholas would make a great couple, Mendoza blows up. Then Joseph just happens to ask, oh so innocently, if she really couldn’t remember her name back in the dungeon, purposely re-triggering Mendoza’s trauma to help steer her towards what’s best for the mission. (I guess this also puts to rest the issue of Mendoza’s forgotten name we talked about a few posts back!)
After Mendoza has been hiding in her rooms for four days, she returns to find a bowl of ten oranges for breakfast. Sir Walter mentions they’ve never had more than three ripe at a time before. This is pure speculation, of course, but could this “abundance of orangery” be an early example of Mendoza’s occasional effects on plant growth, which we’ll see frequently in later books in the series? Maybe the emotional outburst in the previous scene caused her to generate Crome’s radiation during the storm? Again, all of this is 100% speculation and probably reading too much into things, but it’s also just the kind of subtlety I’d expect from Kage Baker.
The end of the chapter brings a few hints of what’s to come in the second half of the novel. Mendoza notices that Sir Walter is visibly taller, showing the early effects of Joseph’s tinkering. “Master Darrell of Colehill”, who will offer to purchase the Iden estate later in the novel, makes his first appearance. And Francis Ffrawney reveals the dark secret in Nicholas’s past: he was a member of an Anabaptist sect that conducted religious orgies. Ffrawney mentions that Nicholas had “friends at the University” who found him a position at the Iden estate after his disgrace; later we’ll learn much more about how (and why) Company operatives have influenced his life.
To finish up on a lighter note, I have just one random unconnected tidbit. Don’t take this one too seriously, okay? So, I must have read this novel a dozen times over the years, but I just now noticed something in this quote from chapter 12:
Sometimes, lying awake at night, I heard strange little electronic noises coming from Sir Walter’s room—Joseph in there with his pocketful of cryptotools, performing some secret rearrangement of Sir Walter’s insides.
“Pocketful of cryptotools”? Surely this can’t be a reference to a certain 90s music album that had been released just a few years before this novel? I mean, it’s not like Joseph isn’t portraying a doctor here, right? You could maybe even go as far as calling our favorite tricksy Facilitator a… spin doctor? Right? Right? Okay, I’ll just go sit in the corner for a bit.
And on that (rather ridiculous) note, we’ll end for today!
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.