In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (1997, 329 pages, Science/Historical Fiction)
Well, I must say, this book was not at all what I was expecting. The cover and blurb on the back imply time-traveling science fiction with immortal cyborgs. The story delivers that, plus a Jane Austen-esque romance married to a Charlotte Bronte-esque tragedy mingled with a heavy dose of philosophizing on religion and the human condition. It was the strangest, loveliest mash-up; wholly unexpected and very hard to set aside.
The story follows Mendoza, a child plucked from the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition by the Company, a group of immortals bent on saving the world’s treasures from the rest of us “ugly monkeys.” We follow her adventures as she too is transformed and then plopped down in rainy, tumultuous sixteenth century England to complete her first Company assignment. Though iced over with a veneer of Sci Fi, this story boils down to a romance – part Darcy and Elizabeth’s delicious verbal fencing and part steamy bodice-ripper, all shadowed over with the looming efforts of doomed Mary Tudor to re-Catholicize England.
Such a crazy combination of styles and stories would result in an awkward narrative in less skillful hands, but Kage Baker fits it all together like a Rubik’s cube and hands it to you with an unsettling smile.