Not Less Than Gods (The Company)
by Kage Baker
Cover Artist: Paul Youll
Review by Harriet Klausner
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765318916
Date: 16 March 2010 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In 1825 in London Lady Amalthea R. gives birth to a boy whose father is also an aristocrat, but not married to Lady Amalthea. Neither wants to raise him so Dr. Nennys takes the baby and leaves the newborn with Mr. and Mrs. Bell who recently gave birth to a stillborn after ten years of marriage with no offspring. They accept the rejected child, but don't attend to him. Eventually Dr. Nennys ships the neglected boy Edward Bell-Fairfax to a boarding school.
As a young adult, he joins the British navy, but does not fit in very well. Perhaps it is his unique skills of fast thinking and super strength that leave him a loner, not a good thing when one is part of a unit. Edward finds his niche when he joins a company of scientists and undercover agents. He learns so much under the tutelage of brilliant Dr. Ludbridge and is amazed with the annual message from the future. They travel to Europe together where Edward tries to influence the outcome of the Crimean War through his ability to persuade and his skill as an assassin. He takes away from that effort the belief that his idealism for a better world is loaded with failed good intentions and requires nasty deeds.
Fans who have read the recently completed Company saga will enjoy this entertaining look at one of the more fascinating members of the team before Edward and botanist Mendoza became an entry. Edward's childhood is one of being unwanted until the malevolent Dr. Nennys decides he can use the lad due to the child's uncanny skill. Thus undesired and abused, the marvel of Edward is he remains an idealist wanting to shape society so some other abandoned child is not neglected.
As an adult he still fails to fit in as he and the British royal navy is not a good match. However, he finds his place with the Company where Dr. Ludbridge mentors him. Although he remains the ultimate idealist, he tempers his belief with pragmatism to achieve the greater end that may require nasty means.
The steampunk fantasy story line is obviously character driven by Edward, but is loaded with espionage, odious misuses of technology, and plenty of poison as a weapon of personal choice by many, while also insuring the reader knows they are deeply inside the Victorian Era; perhaps too much so. Fans will wonder whether Edward can influence the outcome of the Crimean War in favor of England, but at what cost. What will it take to achieve his objective?
Although limited to die hard readers of the Company series (see The Sons of Heaven) who have not gotten their fill with the recently finished saga, those who want more will enjoy this look at one of the heroes; newcomers may be lost amid the Victorian age and Company references.