In the Garden of Iden begins:
I am a botanist. I will write down the story of my life as an exercise, to provide the illusion of conversation in this place where I am now alone. It will be a long story, because it was a long road that brought me here, and it led through blazing Spain and green, green England and ever so many centuries of Time. But you'll understand it best if I begin by telling you what I learned in school.
For me, that was that. For the next 300 pages, I belonged to Mendoza. Because, with that first paragraph, I believed in her and she made me want to know everything, everything, everything.
Fast forward to the distant-ish future:
Dr. Zeus, Inc. semi-successfully figures out immortality. There are enough drawbacks -- a major one being that it only really works well on children, rather than on "middle-aged millionaires" -- that it isn't a marketable process, but still.
Dr. Zeus, Inc. also figures out time travel. It isn't particularly marketable, either, because it is only possible to travel to your own past and back again. And because history cannot be changed.
BUT. That bit -- the bit about history? It only applies to recorded history.
Which opens up some serious windows of opportunity.
And now back to 1541-ish, where Mendoza's story begins:
As a nameless, friendless child, she is rescued from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition by an agent of The Company. She is swept away to a secret location in Australia, where she is taught and trained and physically altered:
It wasn't all that different from any particularly demanding boarding school, except that of course nobody ever went home for the holidays and we had a lot of brain surgery. (45)
For the rest of her life -- which will be forever, as she's now immortal -- she will work behind the scenes of history, collecting and preserving plant life for use in the future.
This book is the story of her first mission and of her first love.
Sorry about the ridiculously long description. I guess I could have just said that it's a SF novel that reads in some ways like historical fiction and in other ways like a coming-of-age story:
"Characterization is very important in the field. I don't think you've exactly got a handle on that, yet."
"I have too," I said hotly. "I think I'm portraying a late medieval Spanish adolescent very well."
"No. You are a late medieval Spanish adolescent. It's not a role for you, not yet." (145)
And instead of blathering on, I could just have said that it brought Jasper Fforde's Thursday Nextbooks to mind -- not at all in tone or style, mind you -- because it deals with a group of people who work behind the scenes of our world, manipulating things while the majority of us just swan on through our lives, unaware. I could have just said that it's one of those books in which I loved the ideas and the worldbuilding just as much as the narrative voice and the characters -- and I loved Mendoza's voice and the other characters very much indeed. (Actually, I did just say all that.) But I went on and on about the set-up because I just think it's so dang cool.
So, yes. Love love love. Full of heart and full of brains and full of spunk and full of emotion. (Though I did think that the last fifth-or-so felt really rushed and it very suddenly got way heavy, which made me suspect that some of the Heavy Stuff was a Way of Setting Up Our Heroine's Tragic Past and to give her A Reason to Question Her Situation in Future Installments, but I could be wrong.) Do not, do not, do not let the atrocious cover (that comes nowhere near suggesting the storyline, let alone the tone of the book) scare you off.
Every time I hear about the rediscovery of a species previously thought long-extinct, I will think of The Company. And I will wonder.
Book souce: ILLed from another library. Because my library has NO books by Kage Baker. NONE. Needless to say, I've put in a request in for the second one.