Folks, gather round because it is once again time for a new installment in the Kage Baker Company series reread! In today’s post, we’ll cover chapters 13 and 14 of In the Garden of Iden.
Before we get started, a word of warning: this reread contains spoilers for the entire series, so be careful unless you don’t mind finding out plot elements and revelations from later books.
Summary: It’s now mid August, a few weeks after the end of the previous chapter. Mendoza and Nicholas kiss and, later the same day, sleep together for the first time. Nefer gets more and more restless.
Commentary: In reviews of this novel, the one “criticism” I’ve seen most often over the years is that it contains too much romance. First of all, I want to carefully note that I don’t agree with this criticism at all: yes, In the Garden of Iden prominently features a romance, but as far as I am concerned it’s just the right amount of romance, and it fits perfectly into the novel and the series. Furthermore, there is so much more going on in this novel (though admittedly a lot of it is happening behind the scenes at this point) that complaining about romance probably says more about the reader than the novel. Anyway, that whole line of criticism always feels like “ewwww, romance cooties” and, friends, that just won’t do for me. I admit freely that the last paragraph of this chapter gives me chills every single time I read it; if that makes me a romantic, so be it.
However, I will agree that this particular chapter, taken just by itself, is almost entirely romance. Glorious, beautiful, heartbreaking romance. Aside from the short side-discussion between Mendoza and Nefer about layovers (Nef is getting more and more on-edge because her prolonged lack of work during this layover is triggering the Company’s conditioning) and maybe some of the continued theological discussions, this entire chapter is dedicated to the blossoming relationship between Mendoza and Nicholas.
I love the way Kage Baker inserts a little bit of comedy in the romance in this chapter. The “Friar John” bit starts out great with Nicholas stringing together a set of ridiculous comparisons between the imaginary friar and his, well, you know. When Friar John tries to invade Mendoza’s castle (to borrow her own image) Mendoza’s defensive conditioning almost ruins the moment, but the tragedy turns to pure hilarity when Nicholas starts speaking in Friar John’s voice. And then there’s that final paragraph. What a beautiful, sweet, moving scene.
The discussion about the exact location of Avalon at the start of chapter 13 is a great example of Kage Baker’s gentle use of foreshadowing. Nicholas says the Blessed Isle of Avalon, where King Arthur and his knights are said to be resting, is to the west (of England), but it’s not Ireland or the New World. Mendoza suggests it could be an island west of the New World. So yes, Nicholas is obviously correct when he says it’s a metaphor, but much later on, we’ll learn how important the island of Santa Catalina, just west of California, is to the history of the Company—and incidentally, the island’s main settlement is named Avalon. And don’t forget: Mendoza is writing this diary during her imprisonment there in Back Way Back.
We also see more examples of Nicholas’s unusual religious views and the way they seem to predict, or at least hint at, the Company’s activities, especially his theory that freedom from sin will lead to eternal life. Mendoza reflects that it’s technology, not grace, that will bring eternal life. We’ll come back to this idea much later in the reread, when we get to Alec’s theory about the ages of Faith, Reason, and Technology in The Machine’s Child. Speaking of that novel, its title pops up here for the first time when Nicholas mentions how the prophet Elijah was taken into Heaven alive, and Mendoza thinks back to how she was taken to Terra Australis:
But I too had been taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire. What a depressing thought, somehow. Nothing to do with a soul or spirit: a mechanical conjuring trick, a deus ex machina. And so what was I? The machine’s child?
But more importantly than any of this, just enjoy this chapter, because until we get to the end game much later on in the series, this is one of just a few brief periods where Mendoza is happy. From this point on, things will go downhill for our poor Botanist First Grade for a long, long time.
Summary: Mendoza is over the moon about her relationship with Nicholas and enjoys every minute of it. Nefer is accommodating if not very enthusiastic. Sir Walter is getting visibly healthier and stronger, aside from a seizure caused by an overdose of pineal tribrantine 3. In the outside world, the religious tension in England continues to build.
Commentary: How quickly things change. In the first half of this chapter, the idyllic romance from chapter 13 Mendoza’s gets hit by a dose of reality for the first time.
First scene: the contrast between Mendoza’s wide-eyed excitement and Nefer’s world-weary experience is immediately clear. We learn that Nef is two million days old, which adds up well over 5,000 years. For her, none of this is anything new. By contrast, Mendoza is young, excited, and in love for the first time. For a brief moment, she likes and even wants to help mortals—a huge change from her attitude when the mission started, and we know where it’ll end up all too soon…
Second scene: just like in chapter 13, Mendoza is writing about the happiness she felt during the brief, idyllic period of romance in this doomed relationship, but she is now writing from a perspective of painful remembrance, rather than joy. In chapter 13, you might briefly forget that this is the diary of a prisoner; in chapter 14, it’s clear that this was just a brief blip:
Now that I come to write of what we did together, I have a peculiar reluctance to put pen to paper. Yes, this is definitely pain I feel. There is a locked door, you see, hinges red as blood with rust: it screams upon being opened and tries to close again, but through its narrow space I see the color green.
The final scenes in this chapter are another great example of Kage Baker’s skill as a writer: not only can she switch from drama to comedy on a dime, but she uses the hilarious sight of Sir Walter “crying cuckoo before his whole house” to advance several elements of the plot, in a very similar way to Xenophon’s delivery in chapter 12. First of all, we learn about “pineal tribrantine 3” (basically the Company’s Elixir of Youth) for the first time. Secondly, Nicholas spots that Sir Walter’s scar is missing, heightening his suspicions about Dr. Ruy/Joseph. And finally, Mendoza is clearly fantasizing about making Nicholas immortal or at least extending his life, even though she denies this when Joseph asks her.
Does anyone else think the faulty regulator that caused Sir Walter’s seizure might have been some kind of revenge on Joseph by Flavius? There’s no confirmation of this in the text, but towards the end of chapter 7 Joseph blew up in a pretty extreme (and theatrical) way at Flavius, so it’s possible that this was one way for Flavius to get back at Joseph. As far as rivalries between immortals go, this would be a pretty mild example, compared to what we’ll see later in the series.
The regulator itself looks very different from what you might expect based on how the augmentation process is described in earlier chapters: no cellular manipulation and nanotechnology here, but instead a red Bakelite box with two wires poking from it. During my interview with Kathleen Bartholomew a few years ago, I learned that Kage originally envisioned the cyborgs to be more reminiscent of something you’d find in a Steampunk novel, using clockwork and so on. Maybe this Bakelite component is a remnant of that?
Here’s one more nifty example of Kage Baker’s sneaky wit. If you know that Sir Walter’s epileptic fit was caused by an overdose of pineal tribantrine 3 and that Jupiter was (broadly speaking) the Roman equivalent of the Greek God Zeus, Sir Walter’s easy-to-miss line of dialogue about “the falling sickness” (during his first meal after his fit) takes on a hidden meaning that he himself is obviously unaware of: “The ancients, being deluded heathen, held it to be a sign that Jupiter, who as you know was their principal idol, had marked a man for greatness.”
Towards the end of the chapter it becomes abundantly clear that, despite the minor mishap with the faulty regulator, Sir Walter is growing stronger, getting healthier, and generally getting the kinds of happy results men experience when starting on, say, testosterone supplements or medications that improve blood flow to certain parts of the male anatomy. Not only does he start a dalliance with the laundress, he also makes his first overtures to Nefer and mentions the image of Hercules in the chalk hills for the first time, probably referring to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset. We’ll see much more of this, and of Nefer’s continued struggles with her layover, in the following chapters.
And that’s it for this week!
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.