The view from my reading pile.

Book Review: In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker February 1, 2010

I went into this book really not knowing what to expect. It had been sitting in a stack of books next to the recliner in our living room for months, since my fiance had picked it up on a whim and left it there, to be read at some point. So when I came across a news item a week or two ago that the author, Kage Baker, was very ill, I went and picked up the novel and started to read. Time travel Science Fiction, to be honest, is not usually my thing, so I’m not sure I would have read it on my own. This would have been a huge mistake.

I guess I’m trying to give some context to my feelings about the book, because I whole-heartedly loved it from page one, had trouble putting it down, and almost didn’t sleep a few nights for wanting to read more.

In the Garden of Iden is Baker’s first novel, and the first in a series about The Company; scientists who discover the process of immortality and time travel, and create immortal agents from history and use them to preserve antiquities that would have otherwise been lost. Baker’s writing brings humor and sweetness to the drama of immortal agents and the tricky moral questions about the Company’s purpose. I liked the romance and didn’t feel like the science or the reality of the situation ever took a backseat once it was introduced, rather it fit in with the story and added another dimension to the dilemmas of Mendoza, the main character. I am so excited that there are more books for me to read in this series.

I wrote most of this post on Friday, and left it over the weekend while I continued to think about the book and what I liked. Yesterday morning, Kage Baker passed away. I am so sorry for the loss to her friends and family, and to her fans.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have finally read this book, knowing that there are more Company novels for me to devour, but at the same time I am so incredibly sad that there will be no more when I am done. 15 novels, short story collections, and novellas in this story, plus Baker’s other works, will certainly keep me reading for quite a while, and yet I am still feeling bereft: there should have been more. Thank you, Kage Baker, for what there is.


Desideria, by Nicole Kornher-Stace September 1, 2009

Filed under: book review — stackscene @ 8:30 pm
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**Disclaimer**: The author of the work being discussed today is a personal friend of mine. I like reading things my friends write, but can’t possibly pretend to be objective about the work. I do think, however, that I can give enough of an idea of the book that a reader should be able to make a decision as to whether or not they would like to read the book.

I met Nicole Kornher-Stace at Readercon this year, and almost immediately fell in love with her words. I say this because she is the featured poet in the Summer issue of the online poetry magazine Goblin Fruit, and I got to hear her read one of the poems from the feature, The Changeling Always Wins. I love poetry that has a sense of humor, and this piece in particular is dark and twisted and a little creepy, but also very, very funny. To cross-promote my own stuff for a second, if you’re interested in finding out more about Nicole’s poetry and Goblin Fruit, I just did an interview with the editors of the publication on my podcast, We Have Thumbs.

The upshot of all of this was that I liked Miss Kornher-Stace, I liked her work, and she had a new novel, her first, being sold in the dealer’s room at the con. So I grabbed a copy of Desideria (Amazon links for illustration, please support your local retailers when possible) and tossed it on one of the book stacks. I recently got around to reading it, and finished it last night, so I’m trying to get a review written before I lose any of the dreaminess of this book.

Dreaminess isn’t the right word. That implies something sort of soft and pretty, and this book is gorgeous, but not pretty. I’ve mentioned that Kornher-Stace is a poet, and that definitely comes across in her prose. The opening line of the prologue is such a well-turned, brain-snagging phrase that I literally read the line several times, savoring the imagery, before I could move on to the rest. “At first she does not know just how or why the lamp is in her hand, its glass and brass and fern-curled fire;” the sentence continues, but it takes a bit more time for the dream-like images to begin to resolve into a character and story. That story is about Ange St. Loup, the woman holding the lamp, who is an actress in a theatre. Ange is known as a brilliant actress, but what only her fellow actors know is that she’s prone to getting a little *too* into character. Think method acting taken to a dangerous extreme. (Note: the story-bits I’m about to divulge are found out fairly early on and thus I do not consider them to be spoilery) Somehow, Ange has fallen down into one of her characters, and accidentally starts a fire in the theatre, and is taken to an insane asylum after jumping out the window. The story that follows cuts between Ange’s surfacing memories of her time in the theatre and her present reality of the asylum of Amaranth. It’s often difficult to decide what is real, and that only gets harder as the book continues and the machinations of some of the supporting characters are made clear. On the subject of those characters, one of my very minor complaints about the book is that I felt like it took a really long time to get a good handle on the rather large cast. I admit however, that this is partially a personal failure, and possibly the result of reading when tired. After finished the book though, I thought about it some more and actually think it suits the structure of the book. After all, we’re meeting these characters through Ange’s memories, and the memories start out vague and become more focused as she regains her sense of self, so allowing the characters to sharpen in focus as the book progresses feels right to me.

Be warned, this is not a happy book, and has elements of abuse and other possibly triggering elements. The ending is good and solid, although disappointing in a very personal way that I’m not sure I can talk about without spoilers, but it all makes sense and does give resolution. I loved this book, but don’t go into it expecting anything light or sweet, or an ending that reinstates the status quo.

If you’re interested in trying out some of Kornher-Stace’s other works before committing to a novel, she has a short story up at Fantasy Magazine, as well as the poetry already mentioned at Goblin Fruit.

Spoilers and more discussion behind the jump. (more…)