In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker

In the Company of Thieves is a book containing six short stories written by Kage Baker (the final story being completed by Kage’s sister, Kathleen Bartholomew, using notes).

I’ve only read one book of KB’s – The Anvil of the World  – which is a brilliant story, imaginative and full of quirky humour which I really enjoyed so I was looking forward to this collection of stories very much and they certainly don’t disappoint.

Apparently the Company, or Dr Zeus Inc as it is sometimes known, is a series of time travelling science fiction stories involving a company whose employees, as well as being immortal can travel back into time – although they are not, apparently, permitted to change the course of history.  The stories in this particular book include:

  • The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park
  • The Unfortunate Gytt
  • The Women of Nell Gwynne’s
  • Mother Aegypt
  • Rude Mechanicals
  • Hollywood Ikons

I haven’t read any of the other Company series but having now been introduced I’m definitely interested in making a start – I just need to find the best starting place!

Without question my favourite of the stories was The Women of Nell Gwynne’s.  I loved the character Lady Beatrice and her story was fascinating to read.  Nell’s house of prostitution isn’t all that it at first seems – Nell’s place is used by The Company to gather information from some of it’s more distinguished visitors whilst they’re in the throes of passion.  Run by Nell – a blind woman – who can see now see everything thanks to one of the inventions that she enjoys courtesy of the Company.  This particular story involves the girls wangling themselves an invitation to a mansion where a lucrative deal is about to be made with some high rollers bidding for a piece of equipment of great significance.  The stakes are high and there’s definitely plenty of danger!  This is just a great story.  I mean, what happened to Lady Bea is no bundle of laughs but the way she turns her world around is such a treat to read.  In my opinion this book is worth reading for this story alone – it’s fantastic.  I loved it and I want so much to return to this world.

Mother Aegypt is also a cracking little story that I found really compelling – the main character being a con man called Golesco who becomes involved with an immortal.  This is a strange, dark and funny story – with giant chickens!  Try to pretend you’re not fascinated if you can.

Rude Mechanicals – involving a great team – Joseph and Lewis.  Apparently these are Company story favourite characters and this particular story is a big mash up involving a theatre production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream by a famous theatre producer.  The scene Italy – the actual location – Hollywood, the props – virtually a full forest, uprooted and replanted!  This staging of Shakespeare’s play has become a Company mission – at the same time however another Company employee is out on another mission involving a rather special treasure.  The two missions will of course cross with quite hilarious results.  The brilliant part of this story is that it reads like a madcap caper.  Things go from one crazy situation to another and it has this totally black-and-white-movie-slapstick-feel – which is quite fitting given it’s set in the 1930’s and Harold Lloyd puts in an appearance.  Another great addition to the collection.

Okay.  That’s it.  I’m not reviewing all the stories here – I need to leave something for you to go and discover yourselves.  Take my word for it – they’re good.  They’re all different.  The writing is ace.  There’s humour.  There’s sadness.  There’s steampunk gadgets and, did I mention, the giant chickens.  Go and read them for yourself.

This book was loaned to me by somebody rather lovely – I will return it – I promise!!

I’m submitting this as part of my sci fi reading experience at Stainless Steel Droppings.  Check it out here.

I was also approved a copy by Netgalley.

The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker

Just finished reading The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker which I absolutely loved.

KG has brought to us a fantasy world filled with demons, gods, and different species.  A whole world filled with Children of the Sun and other species.  But, more than that, she’s brought us a romp of a novel.  This book is fantasy and fun combined and I loved it.  It’s like everything I love in my fantasy novels brought into a new world and looked at in a different way.  Really, I totally recommend this book without hesitation.  Okay, you might like your grimdark but you can also take an amusing look at the premise occasionally and that is what happens here.

The tale basically revolves around a character called Smith (an alias of course).  Smith was an assassin, and he was a damn good one – he can practically stop a would-be-murderer in his tracks just using a soggy false beard or a half penny!  However, good as he is, he has no taste for the job and has left his assassin ways behind, hence the false name, and at the start of the story he takes on what seems like a fairly innocuous job as caravan master transporting goods from one part of this imaginary country to the other.  He’s also transporting a group of unlikely characters and whilst this may all seem fairly mundane things are not as they seem.  Of course the trek across country turns into anything but easy with all sort of death attempts on the passengers until eventually quite strong bonds are developed between some of the travellers and upon arrival at the final destination, Salesh on Sea, Smith takes a different course with a number of his new friends.

Basically, this isn’t some sort of grand sweeping epic.  There are no massive scale armies of goblins or orcs marauding across the countryside raping and pillaging as they go with elves and humans pitched against them.  This is much more small scale in nature, almost by comparison regular every day problems – well, with a bit of death and bad drainage thrown in for good measure.  There are three elements.  The first where bonds are forged between the travellers.  The second where they try to establish a business together where all sorts of mishaps occur and the third where things spiral a little out of control and take certain members outside their normal sphere to head off events before they reach the pass.

I just really enjoyed this.  The writing flows easily.  The setting springs to mind with relative ease. Completely alternative and well imagined with festivals, myths, stories and religions to build upon but what I love the most are the characters.  If I’m going to be honest the character that is almost the most mundane is Smith, although he’s fairly steadfast throughout and I certainly didn’t dislike him.  My favourite character by far, and I could read novels just with him as the main character, is Lord Ermenwyr.  Quarter, or possibly half, demon this guy is amazingly amusing.  His style, his wit and, well, just everything about him – I could literally read adventures with him and his nurse Balnshik – what a great pair.  I mean, the other characters were good but these two completely stole the show – like watching a film with Jack Nicholson.  They just took the biscuit.  In fact they ate the biscuit and then they ate the rest of the packet of biscuits and left the empty packet in the cupboard to con other people into thinking there were still biscuits in there!  Ermenwyr comes from a very strange and powerful family that I won’t elaborate on – only to say that Ermenwyr’s and his siblings outrageous antics and demonic calling are dwarfed into insignificance by the dark force that is their father and not of course forgetting their mother who, although a goddess, is not to be underestimated and in actual fact probably dictates events far more than anyone realises.

The imagination of the author is amazing.  She had me laughing out loud and wanting to quote random snippets to equally random strangers as I went along.  I mean, not to give too much away (I hope) we have a duel with weapons of choice: Fatally Verbal Abuse.  Okay, I’m not going to elaborate because it will be spoilery.  All I can say is I loved this. It’s not a traditional novel.  It takes all the bits and pieces of fantasy, throws them in a bag, blows it all up and then pokes it with a humour stick until it explodes and basically this allows not only the author to have a lot of fun in writing this, but also allows a lot of flexibility in the parameters of what is normally considered allowable and also ensures that the readers have a lot of fun as they read along.

In terms of criticisms I suppose the only thing I would say is that I would have liked more from and for Smith.  I wanted him to feel a little more involved, which sounds a bit crazy because he was involved throughout and yet he almost comes across as peripheral, and I wanted him to get more out of the story.  In that respect I felt a little cheated on his behalf but certainly not enough to make this into any less than a really good read.

Of course, alongside all of this joviality I think the author also tries to weave into the narrative points about the environment and the treatment of the planet but this is done in a very casual way that melds easily with the story and is barely noticeable.

Give it a whirl!

I’m submitting this as part of my 100 books challenge and also as part of my Worlds Without End, WOGF challenge, details here.

July read for WoGF: Elizabeth Bear: Range of Ghosts