Welcome to this week’s installment of the Kage Baker Company series reread! In today’s post, we’ll finish up In the Garden of Iden, covering chapters 22 through 24. The reread’s introduction (including the reading order we’ll be following) can be found here, and the index of all previous posts here.
Before we get started, the usual warning: this reread contains spoilers for the entire series, so be careful unless you don’t mind finding out plot elements and major revelations from later books.
And with that, we’re off!
Summary: Mendoza is inconsolable after the events of the previous night. Nefer tries to put a positive spin on it, saying it’s for the best. Joseph gets Mendoza to focus on finishing her botanical work. Mendoza overhears a conversation between Master Darrell and Francis Ffrawney, and finds out that Nicholas is going to be burned at the stake. She immediately sets out for Rochester.
Commentary: After the events of the previous night, Mendoza spends most of the time crying helplessly. Nefer tries to console her with an “it’s probably for the best” speech that gets no reaction from Mendoza, showing to what extent Mendoza is wrapped up in her despair: she would have probably bitten Nefer’s head off if she’d been paying attention. (Nefer also casually mentions they would have probably had to kill Nicholas because he’d seen too much, and in Sky Coyote Joseph will confirm this. We’re getting further and further away from the idea of the Company being a benevolent organization, aren’t we?)
Joseph is much more effective than Nefer in dealing with Mendoza’s sadness. When he walks in with an armload of plant material from the garden, including some butchered ilex tormentosum twigs, it finally stirs Mendoza out of her catatonia and gets her back to doing what makes her happiest: her work. The work will remain Mendoza’s refuge for the next two centuries or so, until Edward comes on stage towards the end of Mendoza in Hollywood.
But how hilarious is Joseph in this scene, playing up how inept he is at collecting and processing “all this shrubby stuff” with lines like “Yes, sir, this is pretty interesting. Really funky leaves and, uh, I guess this is a flower or something—”? For all the comedy here, this is also Joseph at his fatherly best, actually looking out for Mendoza by trying to distract her from her sadness.
Unfortunately, getting Mendoza back to work also causes her to overhear the conversation between Master Darrell and Francis Ffrawney. When she hears that Nicholas has been caught preaching “the old heresies” in Sevenoaks and has been condemned to burn, she immediately drops everything and sets off for Rochester.
Summary: Mendoza makes it to Rochester, where she talks the Mayor into letting her speak with Nicholas in his cell. She tries to convince Nicholas to recant, but he refuses. Joseph tries to convince Mendoza to leave, but she insists on staying and watches Nicholas address the audience before he is burned at the stake.
Commentary: The first part of this chapter describes Mendoza’s 30 mile journey to Rochester. What jumped out at me here (aside from Mendoza finally seeing the osiers and weirs she was looking for at the end of chapter 8!) is the way she scares off her assailant by planting terrifying images in his mind. Mendoza thinks that he “must have been a psychic dog”. Maybe this, combined with Mendoza’s Crome radiation, explains why he is receptive to this type of quasi-telepathic sending, because if this worked for everyone, I imagine the Company’s operatives would do it much more often, right? (As it is, I seem to remember at least one other instance of this, maybe in one of the short stories or novellas, but I can’t recall exactly where.)
The conversation between Nicholas and Mendoza, in the cell before Joseph arrives, is heartbreaking. Mendoza was and is willing to give up everything to be with Nicholas, but he is now convinced that she is trying to tempt him from what he considers his holy duty to become a martyr for his faith. The chasm between them has widened even further, but Mendoza is still holding out hope.
Joseph makes a grand entrance in his scene, beginning with a polite “Excuse me” before taking a swing at Nicholas, locking the Lord Mayor out of his own dungeon, and then giving Mendoza a stern, fatherly lecture complete with “You are in a lot of trouble.” The showdown between Mendoza’s immortal father and her mortal lover shows that, despite Joseph’s smarmy manners and endless manipulations, he really does care for Mendoza: “You’re the one who’s made her hate what she is. How’s she supposed to live, now, after what you’ve done to her heart?”
When Joseph tells Nicholas “Age after age, you come back.” Mendoza assumes he’s referring to reincarnation. When Joseph explains how reincarnation really works (the same basic personality templates popping up throughout history) he obviously has no idea how close to the mark he really is, not just with the obvious example of the Adonai but also other famous people who were planted throughout history by the Company, as we’ll find out much later in the series.
Joseph initially doesn’t fight Mendoza over wanting to stay for the burning. Joseph has witnessed over 700 burnings in his previous role with the Inquisition, so he knows what to expect and should have a good idea of how it will affect Mendoza. This makes it surprising that his first reaction is “It might teach you a lesson, at that” when Mendoza insists on staying because she still believes Nicholas will recant. Later on, when they’re back in the Mayor’s house, he’ll do everything he can to convince her to leave, offering to lead her horse and even promising he’ll call in favors to get Mendoza the New World assignment she’s wanted since her training days. Would Mendoza have been more receptive to this argument if Joseph had started out with it from the start, rather than hoping the sight of her mortal lover being burned alive would somehow be cathartic?
But then, after the slow buildup of tension, the final scene of the chapter is wrapped up in just a few pages, so quickly it’s almost shocking. This is one of those scenes that will echo back and forth throughout the entire series. It’ll be referred to frequently by people we haven’t even met yet, and have consequences all the way to the very end of the series. However, at this point it’s mainly a very personal tragedy for Nicholas and Mendoza.
Mendoza and Joseph are given front row seats as Nicholas is led out. Right before Nicholas is tied to the stake, Mendoza has a flashback of chained figures wearing sanbenitos and shuffling towards their executions. I’m guessing that this one of Mendoza’s very early (pre-recruitment) memories, maybe from seeing an auto-da-fé in Santiago when she was very young.
Nicholas breaks free briefly to perform a twisted version of the sacrament of baptism on Mendoza, using his own blood. After being tied to the stake, he addresses the crowd, shaming them for not fighting for their religious liberty and exhorting them to fight back against the Counter-Reformation. Then, after the flames have been lit, he speaks directly to Mendoza, charging her to join him in the flames and return to God. Mendoza wants to run to Nicholas, but she is unable to move, once fighting so strongly against the Company’s conditioning that “there was an audible crack as muscle strove against bone” before finally coming to the sad conclusion: “I had no free will.”
I’m probably reading too much into things here, but we’ve talked about all the religious symbolism throughout this book (and later in the series) so bear with me: one of the most disturbing parts of this sequence is Nicholas quoting from, of all things, the Song of Solomon in his final words to Mendoza: “I am the same that waked thee among the apple trees” and so on. It’s specifically disturbing because he also quoted from the Song, more appropriately and during much happier times, at the end of chapter 13 in the lines his “Friar John” squeaks to Mendoza as they are about to make love for the first time. (This bizarre circle will ultimately be completed at the very end of the series: take a look at the last line in the epilogue to the final novel, The Sons of Heaven.)
Later on in the series we’ll also learn that, thanks to the persuasive powers of the Adonai, the lives of most of the people who witnessed the execution will change drastically after hearing Nicholas’s sermon. Many of them will heed his call in some form, some committing suicide, others taking up arms against religious persecution. It’s even argued that this speech is what caused Joseph, up to this point a loyal Dr. Zeus operative for countless centuries, to go rogue and look into the darker aspects of the Company. Maybe most importantly, a man named Crokeham (not named in this chapter but mentioned in the “Extract from the Text of Document D” in The Life of the World to Come) will be part of Sir Francis Drake’s crew at Catalina Island, recovering the scientific documents and mysterious devices and potions that will eventually find their way back to Doctor Dee in England and become a necessary link in the founding of Dr. Zeus.
Summary: Mendoza, clearly in shock, wraps up her work in a daze before leaving Kent. Six months later, after lots of drugs and therapy, she arrives at her new post in the luxurious Company research base New World One.
Commentary: A very minor point to start this chapter: when the team is on its way out of Kent, they encounter a mortal who is hoping to sell a “dragon skull” at the Iden estate. The skull actually belongs to an ichthyosaur, not a dragon, making this the first of several instances of ichthyosaurs appearing in the series in unexpected (not to say impossible) spots. I’ve never really known what to make of these appearances, but I wanted to document this first one here so we can maybe figure it out as we read along. Anyway, moving on!
Throughout this chapter, Mendoza is in shock to such an extent that she’s unresponsive, not to say borderline catatonic. It’s incredibly sad to see her like this, knowing how passionate and strong-willed she usually is, but it’s also understandable given the horror she just witnessed. Joseph, maybe feeling guilty for steering her towards Nicholas early on in the mission, promises to pull strings in order to get her out of trouble and get her stationed in the New World. He’s probably also responsible for the removal of the AAE flag on her file so she can remain in the Americas for the next few centuries.
This chapter also features the very first appearance of Victor, who will become one of the most important characters in the entire series. He’ll appear in various roles in many novels and stories, playing a crucial part in many key plotlines. Here, he introduces himself as the Personnel Coordinator for New World One, but in the novella “To the Land Beyond the Sunset”, we’ll learn that he’s actually also the Company’s Political Officer in this base.
New World One comes as a bit of a shock after we’ve spent most of the novel in 16th century England: a luxurious tropical paradise complete with four restaurants and a golf course. Even its shiny transit lounge is a stunning contrast with the much grubbier one Mendoza arrived in when she got back to Spain from Terra Australis. The servants in New World One are intercepted human sacrifices who consider it an honor to serve what they believe to be the Sons and Daughters of Heaven. We don’t meet the base’s General Director Houbert in this novel yet, probably because Kage Baker didn’t want to distract from Mendoza’s pain by showing the somewhat comical character responsible for the obscene level of luxury in the base.
Because of this, the stunning final few paragraphs of the novel have their full intended effect: when Mendoza is sipping her margarita and sees monkeys throwing rotting fruit at each other, her suppressed emotions finally break through. The little Spanish girl from chapter 1 has become an immortal cyborg, as far removed from regular mortals as mortals are from monkeys, but despite the Company’s best efforts the psychological damage she’s suffered will always be a part of her. I get chills every time I read those final paragraphs.
And so, my friends, we have finally come to the end of In the Garden of Iden! What I find most impressive about this novel, still my favorite one in the core series, is the way it changes completely as you find out more about the Company. I loved it the first time I read it, as an innovative time travel story about immortal Company operatives and as an unusual but gorgeous historical romance, but during that first reading I had no way of understanding or even knowing about all the different factors that are already in play here but will only be revealed in later books: the New Inklings, the Adonai project, Labienus and Nennius, just to name a few. It’s only in The Life of the World to Come and The Children of the Company that those crucial aspects of this story will be revealed, making In the Garden of Iden a novel you simply have to read twice in order to appreciate the full scope of Kage Baker’s meticulous planning.
We’ll continue our reread in two weeks with the first few chapters of Sky Coyote. I’ll drop a note here later to let you know which chapters we’ll cover in that post. However, before that we have a treat for you: next week we’ll have a guest post from Kage Baker’s sister Kathleen Bartholomew about Kage’s process when writing In the Garden of Iden!
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.