This book is part of my reading lists of both 1st in a series and ebooks. I got my copy from Tor.com last year when they were giving out ebooks for free.
When technology is sufficiently advanced, people have only one enemy left to conquer: death. Both in the sense of making people able to live forever, and bringing back extinct animals and plants. Dr. Zeus (also called the Company) is a company of which specializes on beating death. They have managed to invent time travel but noticed that history can’t be changed. Or to be more precise, known events can’t be changed. But plenty of stuff can be done undercover so to speak.
Even though you can’t just travel back in time and make sure a certain plant or animal species doesn’t die, because that is already known history, you can go back, take samples and regrow them again in the future. I was, of course, very interested in the implications of this: what happens if previously generally unknown journals are found? Will those events then become unmutable or have they always been because they have been recorded although not in general circulation? And can you travel forward in time? Are events there just as unmutable because they are history to someone further “up” in the future? What happens when the perceived history is wrong? In other words, who decides what is “recorded history”?
Alas, this book doesn’t answer my questions. In the Garden of Iden is the story of a young woman who has been dubbed Mendoza. Because when another Immortal saves her from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition when she’s very young, she doesn’t even know her own name.
The Immortals are a group of people whom the Company has transformed to work for them. Forever. Because the Company thought it wouldn’t be cost effective to transport their own people throughout different times, they thought up something else. Immortality treatment, which makes the subjects virtually unkillable, strong, fast, smart cyborgs, works successfully only on very young children. So, the Company recruits kids from different time periods, takes them forward in time to be treated and educated, and finally puts them to work as operatives around the age of eighteen. In addition to being taught art, science, and history, the operatives are also taught that mortals are vicious and Immortals are perfect. This is, of course, not true. Mendoza has been trained as a botanist.
After training Mendoza is sent for a year to Spain in 1554 has to establish her persona among the mortals in preparation to traveling to England next year in a party of two other Immortals. One of them, Joseph, is supposedly her father and the other, Nefer, is Mendoza’s duenna.
The year in Spain goes by rather uneventfully. In contrast, England is wet, cold, and full of hostile seeming English people. Queen Mary is trying to turn Protestant England back to Catholic and the Catholic Spaniards aren’t really welcome. However, the three Immortals have prearraigned to stay in the house of Sir Walter Iden. Iden’s gardens are famous for having all sorts of bizarre, rare, or historical plants, animals, and things. Among them are purported to be both the Sword of Roland and a unicorn. Mendoza has work to do there with the rare plants while the zoologist Nefer just has to wait for her next assignment.
However, very soon Mendoza meets tall, dark, and dour Nicolas Harpole and falls madly in love with him. While romantic relationships between mortals and Immortals are officially frowned upon, in practice they are tolerated and sometimes an Immortal even has to wed a mortal to further the local role. Of course, the older Immortals caution Mendoza that the relationship will eventually end in heartbreak. Mendoza, of course, doesn’t care. However, Nicolas himself is a zealous Protestant who isn’t really taken with a Catholic girl. At first, at least.
The vast majority of the book is a historical romance which was quite a surprise. I’m sure that the fans of that genre will enjoy the book. I was rather impatient to get back to the science fiction parts. However, there were some sci-fi elements sprinkled throughout the book. The Immortals take with them all sorts of equipment disguised as local things. The Immortals can also talk amongst themselves without the mortals hearing. They even have a radio station which broadcasts current events when and where ever they are, and mortals can’t hear that one either. I would have loved to get more information about the secret infrastructures the Immortals have underneath the mortal societies. The secret infrastructure seems to be quite large but of course they have had time and knowledge to set it up.
There’s a mention that at least some, the eldest, of the Immortals just live through their lives from the moment they are left back to history to the distant 25th century of the Company. However, the Immortals in this book, at least, seem to move back and forth from time and place to another time and place, and also from the Company back to earlier times.
This book seemed a bit too long for me; the romance parts could have easily been cut to half. (Although I’m sure romance readers would disagree. :)) However, I’ve heard that the second book is better and the narrator there is Joseph, who seems to be quite a bit older than Mendoza, so I’m rather curious to read it.