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The Children of the Company by Kage Baker

The Children of the Company by Kage Baker
Book Name: The Children of the Company
Author: Kage Baker
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Time Travel
Release Date: November 1, 2005

Oh. My. God.

Those are just about the only words I can think to describe my reaction to reading The Children of the Company. While I don’t know that I’d call the book a break from the main narrative (in large part because I didn’t really think I needed a break and am eager to get back to Mendoza and the coming silence), I have to warn you that it isn’t about Mendoza at all. She’s mentioned occasionally, as is Nicholas/Edward/Alec, but this isn’t her story. It isn’t Joseph’s story, either, nor Lewis’, though Lewis does have a chapter of his own, regarding his adventure in Ireland with the people under the hill. If this book belongs to anyone, it belongs to Labienus, an ambitious cyborg who only grows more chilling as the book goes on.

The other reason I wouldn’t call the book a break is that it gives us a little more information on what’s been going on in the background of the main storyline. Little things that we’ve gotten glimpses of – the strange people who abducted Lewis, the Sattes virus, the Recombinant boy who started a plague – are fleshed out, and it turns out they aren’t just bits of worldbuilding as I took them to be. They are much richer and more unsettling than that, and Labienus has had his hand in all of them.

This book isn’t so much a novel as a collection of short stories. There is no overarching plot, at least not in the way there was in previous books. It isn’t an ordinary collection of short stories, though, either. I wouldn’t advise dipping in and out of this book as one might in a normal anthology. These stories follow a linear progression, from the dawn of civilization when Labienus ruled as a tyrannical god over a city-state in the Middle East to the Twenty-Third Century. Along the way, we pause to enter Labienus’s memories or to encounter a report written by another cyborg, and bit by bit, our world expands.

Do you remember the strange little men who captured Lewis in Ireland, then pursued him centuries later to Santa Catalina? (How could anyone forget that, or his harrowing flight as he struggled to remember what they did to him and understand why they would want him again?). We learn more about them, and not just what happened to Lewis in Ireland and after. The strange little men now have a name: Homo umbratilis. The men of the shadows. Just what role they will play in the Silence or whether they will always remain in the shadows isn’t answered in the book, but we now know what happens when they step out of the shadows.

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to sum up what happens as very bad things.

It felt wonderful to see through Lewis’s eyes again (I missed the little book nerd terribly, and I’m just optimistic enough to be worried rather than to give him up entirely), but two other viewpoints were just as exciting. We got to read about Kalugin, and of course I’m eager to read from the point of view of an immortal Russian drowning in survivor’s guilt. Who wouldn’t be? The fact that he’s got a unique viewpoint on one of the catastrophes that will shape the Twenty-Fourth Century might as well be a minor issue compared to that. (Well, all right, it’s far from a minor issue. In fact, every page sent more chills down my spine. If I had any doubts before, they’re gone now: the Company is terrifying.)

And then there’s Victor. Victor, Lewis’s friend. Victor, the red-haired charmer. Victor the poisoner, as we find out from the title of one of the short stories. He isn’t a villain, at least not as much as Labienus. He is, instead, complex – delightfully so. Despite playing a part in some rather unseemly activities, I can’t help but be fond of him. There are layers of good and evil within the Company, just as there are layers within the world, and it’s a very good thing this series is fictional. It may be fun to not be entirely sure who to trust, but it’s far less fun in the real world than when you’re reading a book.

The series so far has had an excellent narrative progression. At first, the Company lurked in the background, no more sinister than your average corporation intent on getting whatever profit they can from historical events. As the books progressed, the Company loomed larger over the events, and the hints Kage Baker has dropped about the future proved both chilling and tantalizing. Now that we’ve learned so much in the past couple of books (and now that this one has filled in so many gaps I didn’t realize needed to be filled), I can’t help but feel that the climax is rushing toward us. We know too much. We are in too deep.

The future is upon us.


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