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Not Less Than Gods: A novel of the history of the Company    by Kage Baker order for
Not Less Than Gods
by Kage Baker
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This 9th in Kage Baker's long-running historical SF series - that began with In the Garden of Iden - takes us back in the Company's history to fill in the blanks on the 1824 birth and early days of idealistic Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax (the reincarnated lover of series star Mendoza) and his initiation as an assassin and spy - all orchestrated by the unpleasantly long-lived Dr. Nennys.

Though having read other books in the series helps in understanding all the nuances of Not Less Than Gods, this volume can also be enjoyed on its own as a spoof of Kipling's Great Game, played by seemingly careless and carefree young Englishmen pretending to take a Grand Tour across Europe. Given this context, Baker's quote of Rudyard Kipling's A Recantation in her dedication seems particularly apt.

Raised under Dr. Nennys's tutelage, and with his idealism fired up by a stint in the Royal Navy, Edward is offered the chance to join a society of 'good and wise men' who apply Science to 'work in secret for the improvement of the world.' Not being as cynical as you or I, young Edward leaps in with both feet. He joins the Redking's Club, where he and two other young gentlemen are mentored by Ludbridge.

Once well trained in the arts of espionage and assassination, the threesome and Ludbridge ('Silenus to a trio of Bacchuses') wend their drunken way through Europe, alternating conventional travel with that based on future technologies. They also use future tech to take photographs and take out key figures, in order to influence burgeoning politics and wars, on the orders of a mysterious informant.

Observing Bell-Fairfax, Ludbridge notices his exceptional abilities - strength, speed, hearing, sense of smell, and the power to influence others to do his will (which Edward at first unknowingly uses on young ladies). A Rabbi labels Edward a golem, and warns that 'he has no voice, the golem. To give him a voice is to give him a soul, and who can say whether that ought to be done?'

If you haven't found the Company novels yet, and would enjoy well researched historical fiction in an SF time travel context and with a strong vein of satire, then you have a treat in store with this excellent series. (Sadly there will be no further episodes as Kage Baker died earlier this year.)

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