Friday, March 05, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 30 (3/5) -- Not Less Than Gods by Kage Baker

It's a bittersweet thing to read a favorite writer's last book. At best it's only a mildly sad moment -- perhaps one has finally made it to Edwin Drood and so there will be no more unread Dickens -- but it can be heartbreaking when it happens to a writer whose first novel you read in manuscript. I'm not perfectly certainly that Not Less Than Gods is Kage Baker's last book -- there could be a novel in the pipeline, and I'm sure there are enough uncollected stories for at least one book -- but it's the novel that published right after her unexpected, untimely death, and (even worse) a novel that explicitly was to be the first of a sidebar sequence to her Company novels.

Not Less Than Gods is a steampunk spy novel, in a somewhat episodic vein, tracing the young life and early adventures of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax, who (later in his personal life, as already recorded in the eight main Company novels) learned the secret of his mysterious parentage, found love, and helped to create a new, unpredicted world. But Bell-Fairfax has not even been born as Not Less opens in 1824, and still a young man when it ends in 1855. Along the way, he has a quickly sketched -- and somewhat typically fictional -- Victorian childhood, and a short, unpleasant stint in the Royal Navy, from which he has to be rescued by the shadowy forces that have been manipulating his life. (Readers of the main Company novels will know precisely who those forces are; other readers can either pick up In the Garden of Iden and find out, or just leave it a mystery -- this novel doesn't require any knowledge of the other books, though it has some pleasures that show themselves only to the initiated.)

But, to get back to young Mr. Bell-Fairfax: he's saved from hanging for his crimes (all entirely in the service of honor and righteousness, of course, and against what the reader will entirely agree is villainy) and initiated into the secret subterranean world of Redking's Club, where he will join that secret society -- and its affiliates all around the world -- in its mission to promote peace, prosperity and the betterment of mankind. And so, in pursuit of that mission of amity and brotherhood, Bell-Fairfax and two other young agents set out on a Grand Tour of Europe under the command of an older agent -- disguised as ordinary boisterous young aristocrats and their chaperone -- to steal and spy and murder.

So Not Less is somewhat the story of how Bell-Fairfax came to be the man we saw in those prior novels -- but, even more, it's Baker indulging her love for history, high adventure, and morally ambiguous action, and showing she can do this newly fashionable steampunk thing as well as anyone. It's a damn shame that she had to leave us so soon, but, if we have to have a last novel from Kage Baker, this is a hell of a way to go out.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Be Your Own Pet - Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

Nadine said...

David Hartwell posted on that there's also a finished fantasy novel set in the same world as House of the Stag and Anvil of the World. I think she'd also finished another piece for Subterranean. So at least one more book.

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