Yesterday I finished reading Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker, the third book in her science-fiction series about time-travel, immortal cyborgs and the sinister company Dr. Zeus.
I love this series more with every book of it I read. The premise is great–using the development of time travel and cybernetic augmentation, an all-powerful corporation has infiltrated every era of history with secret immortal operatives ordered to study, preserve and pilfer all manner of rarities and treasures before they’re lost to the ravages of time. What this secret history formula gives you are very well-constructed historical novels with a futuristic sci-fi slant. Mendoza in Hollywood is set in 1863, in the area of California that will one day become Hollywood, but the protagonist is over three centuries old. She can never die. None of the Company operatives can–the darker consequences of this immortality are a major theme in the series.
It’s hard to say exactly why I love these novels so much. They’re not the most action-packed of stories. Indeed, there are long stretches where little can be said to really happen. But they’re extremely well-written. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but there’s something fascinating about a historical setting being narrated by a character who is living through that era but also intimately familiar with the centuries that have preceded it and the developments that will come. Individual points in time mean almost nothing to these characters because they are aware of history in its entirety and know they must live through it.
The characters are the most successful aspect of these novels for me. They’re well-drawn and compelling–you come to really care about them, which is an admirable achievement for Baker considering they can be so difficult to relate to at times. Mendoza is the narrator of this instalment, as well as In the Garden of Iden, the first in the series. She has experienced real pain and that is always evident in her character without becoming clichéd or overwrought. It’s a real talent to depict heartbreak convincingly in literature, and Mendoza’s heartbreak is devastatingly convincing. The only thing I missed in this book was the character of Joseph, a favourite of mine from the other books who will doubtless be appearing in the next instalment.
So far, the three books in the series have each related a self-contained and historically-specific drama but hinted at wider mysteries and strife to come. Clearly all is not well with The Company and their staff of immortals in the future, but the exact nature of the trouble and how the main characters might deal with it has been held back until the later books. Each book is more than entertaining enough in itself to keep me interested and reading until I get to the big revelation. That said… I am mightily curious and I can’t wait until the big conspiracy makes its proper entrance into the series. This book gets a solid four stars, the series as a whole gets a big thumbs up and I’ll definitely be reading the next book soon.