This is the first novel in what has become one of the most popular series in contemporary SF, now back in print from Tor. In the 24th century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden.
But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company.
This book was not at all what I expected but then again I didn’t really know what to expect. What an interesting concept and a novel take on time travel.
First of all, this is just a wild concept that allows the author through the characters to wrestle with all sorts of ethical issues under the surface of ‘ooh, fun time travel and immortals!’. The Company of the title refers to an actual company in the future who uses time travel and the clever creation and placement of essentially immortal human/androids throughout history to preserve things that were lost to history. See, you can’t just go back and time, snatch something from history and bring it into the future. But what you can do is go back in time and rescue it before it disappears, hide it somewhere secure or make sure someone is watching over it, and then suddenly ‘rediscover’ it in your own time. So they send a few people back in the past with their technology, build a base for training and then recruit orphans as children to join the company. I mean, you’re a kid, you have nothing, you’re probably going to die? Joining the company certainly seems like a good idea at the time! Right?
And so we’re introduced to Mendoza, first as a child, rescued from the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition, and then later as a young woman after she’s gone through training as a botanist and is ready for her first field mission. All the company folks are interesting because they’re playing a role. They know what will happen because they have the knowledge the future brings. Also, oddly enough it is stated explicitly that the future can’t be changed. So whatever they do it won’t have consequences for how things turn out. Or maybe it will but it’s how it was supposed to happen because it’s already happened … well, time travel. Anywho. They talk like modern people and as if they are visitors to the past despite the fact that they’re all moving through time the same as everyone else, by living it. The only difference is their knowledge, technology, and that some of them are hundreds of years old (thanks, technology!). They kind of feel like spies almost? They’re there to complete missions — collect samples of things, steal artwork, etc., to ensure these things are preserved for future generations. (The Company isn’t just doing this for the good of mankind by the way–there’s BIG MONEY in it so capitalism, yay!)
Mendoza is unique among the rest of the folks in her mission in that she’s very young by company standards–only 19. She doesn’t actually have a lot of life experience yet. So of course she falls in love her first time out. And she falls hard. It’s a whirlwind. And it complicates the mission because feelings. Mendoza was interesting to follow because I didn’t feel her particularly likable–she sometimes has that ‘know it all’ thing going on which can get a bit annoying, especially in someone lacking so much experience. The other members of the company that are with her are alternately exasperated and patient with her and all these new experiences–after all, they were young and new to this one time. I don’t want to say too much about the love story in this but it was a hard lesson for Mendoza to learn.
Overall the characters in this were great. Even though there is very much a mission and the plot is upfront, the characters still drive all the drama and tension behind the plot. It’s not a long book and the pacing was great. I can’t really think of much criticisms except that I wish the characters had been just a tad more likable. That being said I’m really looking forward to reading more books in the series and seeing further adventures in different time periods. 4/5 stars.