See my post about the first book for information about the Company.
It's clear from the first line that something has gone very wrong. Mendoza, the narrator of the first book in the series and a character in the second, is testifying in a private hearing:
You want the truth from me? It's a subjective thing, truth, you know, and you could easily get all the damning evidence you need from the datafeed transcripts. Oh, but you wouldn't understand my motive, would you? I see the point.
Will it help if I freely confess? I killed six--no, seven--mortal men, though I must say it was under provocation. I acted in direct violation of the laws that govern us, of the principles instilled in me when I was at school. I betrayed those principles by becoming involved in a mortal quarrel, supporting a cause I knew must fail in the end. Worst of all, I stole Company property -- myself, when I deserted the post to which I had been assigned. I don't expect mercy, señors.
But it might help you to know that what I did, I did for love. (p1)
It's a great hook, because those who've read the previous books will be wondering how in the world Mendoza allowed herself to practically re-create and re-live the painful events of her first mission, while those who haven't read the previous books will want to know what drove this seemingly rational being to such violence...
After that intro, Mendoza backs up, of course, and begins at the beginning. The first three-quarters of the book are mostly quiet -- well, as quiet as a book about cranky and quirky immortal researchers living together in 1863 can be -- but the last quarter, beginning with the arrival of Edward Bell-Fairfax (who is identical to Mendoza's dead lost love, in appearance, temperament and philosophy) appears, is something that needs to be read in one sitting. Because, holy cow, the action. The hints about the future, and about the secrets behind The Company. And of course, Mendoza's Ultimate Fate... or is it?
I loved the whole book, simply because Kage Baker is a joy to read, because of Mendoza's voice and world view and because of the hilarious dialogue/interplay between characters, but if you're wanting action-packed, you may want to wait until your wants shift before picking up Mendoza in Hollywood-- I'd imagine that the pages devoted to a play-by-play description of movies as the characters watch them might not go over well with every reader. (I liked those scenes, both because the writing was such that I felt like I was there with the characters -- not just in terms of seeing and hearing, but in terms of inebriation and the subtleties of dynamics (between and within characters) in the room. And the idea of having access not only to every movie ever made, but to every lost scene of every movie ever made... is just mind-blowingly awesome.)
Some loveliness from the book:
On the Relationship Between Immortals and Historical Figures:
Then we were shown Catherine de Medici, the villainous queen mother ("That meddling old hag!" snarled Imarte, with such venom, we all turned to look at her) and... (p148)
On the Company and Jesus:
"A fundamentalist group paid the Company big bucks to catch the man's act on film. They didn't like what they saw, so they paid more big bucks to have it suppressed."
"You're kidding!" I leaned forward. "So he was real? So he worked miracles?"
"Oh, yeah," said Einar, nodding. "That wasn't the problem." (p155)
On the Irrelevance of Time:
"We are time machines! The truth's been right in front of our noses since cinema was invented. Hell, since photography was invented. Hell, since writing was invented. Make an image of something, and it escapes the flow of time. That's why it's forbidden! Dickens had a grasp on it with his ghosts, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley almost got it, and Einstein came so close to the truth. The dead heroes are brought in to Odin, and they rise again, they feast all night and fight all day again, and their deaths mean nothing, because they've escaped time. That's the whole point of the metaphor with Dr. Zeus, you guys! He's the liberator. Zeus defeats Chronos. Everything's happening at once! We can perceive time in a way mortals can't, we can make it irrelevant. Don't you see?" (p169)
On the Heartbreak of Coming of Age:
Do you remember that terrible moment, señors, when the self-righteousness of your youth died? When all the stern warnings of your elders, ignored until the consequences abruptly came crashing down on your head, made you see in a flash that the warnings hadn't been unfair or mean-spirited or blind, they'd been right? All along your elders had been trying to tell you about the black joke that is life, trying to help you and save you from pain. But you insisted on running straight into the trap, mocking them as you ran, to the agony that was irreversible and permanent, with no one to blame, finally, but yourself. (p237)
That last quote, especially, is just... woof. The truth of it is physically painful. It's painful enough without the context of Mendoza's story, but within the context, it's brutal.
Anyway. This isn't a series for everyone, I know, but there is no denying, I think, that they are special books, and that when Kage Baker died earlier this year, that we lost someone so... I don't really have words for it. I just keep thinking of the chapter about the Happy Medium in A Wrinkle in Time. About the Darkness enveloping Earth and about the bright stars that fight it.
Book source: ILLed through my local library.
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