Review of NOT LESS THAN GODS by Kage Baker
A NOVEL OF THE HISTORY OF THE COMPANY
Tor, March 2010
Edward Bell-Fairfax, the illegitimate offspring of an aristocratic woman and no certain father, first serves in the British Navy and then is quietly whisked into the ultra-secret 'Company,' an organization whose purpose is to bring mankind into a golden age...no matter what the cost. Bell-Fairfax finds his ethics challenged as he learns the price he and the others must pay to bring about this new golden age as he and several collegues embark on a journey to the Ottoman Empire (Palestine and Constantinople) and Russia (the Crimean and St. Petersburg), exploring the location of the upcoming siege of Sevastople and the charge of the light brigade. While in Jerusalem, the members of the Company first came into contact with a group of Americans pursuing a dream of manifest destiny that included incorporating Russia in a tri-continent slave-holding empire.
Author Kage Baker (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of science fiction by Baker) combines talented writing, an intriguing character in Bell-Fairfax, and a fascinating time period and setting but somehow the story itself doesn't quite gel.
Bell-Fairfax and the others take photos of Russian (and Turkish) fortifications that will become key points during the Crimean war, but we're told that they can do nothing to influence the pre-determined history of that war so their efforts seem pointless. They're pursued by a group of Americans, but don't really take steps to confront and defeat their opponents. Their ultimate rampage against corrupt Russian secret police is tangential to their goals and sufficiently ambiguous that I was left wondering if we were being shown the futility of pursuing good ends through violence or the necessity of bearing those costs. As for the whole 'golem' thing, Baker stressed that point but I'm afraid I don't know where she was trying to go with it.
I'm a fan of Kage Baker and her Company series but NOT LESS THAN GODS, despite talented writing that kept me reading throught the book, left me wondering why she'd bothered with this particular story, which is a shame. It should have been great, instead, it was... readable.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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