Not Less Than Godsby Kage Baker
Recently returned from war, young Edward Anton Bell-Fairfax is grateful to be taken under the wing of the Gentleman's Speculative Society. At the Society, Edward soon learns that a secret world flourishes beneath the surface of London's society, a world of wondrous and terrible inventions and devices used to tip the balance of power in a long-running game of
Recently returned from war, young Edward Anton Bell-Fairfax is grateful to be taken under the wing of the Gentleman's Speculative Society. At the Society, Edward soon learns that a secret world flourishes beneath the surface of London's society, a world of wondrous and terrible inventions and devices used to tip the balance of power in a long-running game of high-stakes intrigue. Through his intensive training Edward Anton Bell-Fairfax, unwanted and lonely boy, becomes Edward Anton Bell-Fairfax, Victorian super-assassin, fleeing across the Turkish countryside in steam-powered coaches and honing his fighting skills against clockwork opponents.
As Edward travels across Europe with a team of companions, all disguised as gentleman dandies on tour, he learns more about himself and the curious abilities he is gradually developing. He begins to wonder if there isn't more going on than simple international intrigue, and if he and his companions are maybe part of a political and economic game stretching through the centuries. But, in the end, is it a game he can bring himself to play?
Edward Anton Bell-Fairfax, the idealistic assassin. Perhaps the most dangerous man alive.
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Not Less Than Gods
By Kage Baker
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Kage Baker
All rights reserved.
1824: Daughter of Elysium
Lady Amalthea R. was a trial to her father, and considered something of an adventuress by the rest of polite society. She reveled in the distinction. Having been told to go straight to hell by her enraged parent after refusing what would have been a respectable and advantageous marriage, Lady Amalthea chose instead to take a small house near Hyde Park. She was financially independent, having inherited certain sums from her late mother, and so set herself up in an establishment with her deaf and ancient nurse, Mrs. Denbigh. Attendant also were a handsome butler, a more handsome footman, a gardener so handsome he might have posed for Michelangelo, and a quite plain maid of all work.
By the time Lady Amalthea had reached her mid-twenties, she was well established as a ruined woman. The fact that she was strikingly beautiful, with the looks of a slender valkyrie, guaranteed that she never wanted for company anyway. She dabbled in politics, was given to radicalism of the deepest dye, and her bitterest regret was that she had failed to seduce Lord Byron before he decamped for the Continent. When Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was widowed, Lady Amalthea wrote her reams of consolatory advice and insisted on hosting a dinner party in her honor when that exhausted lady returned to England.
Lady Amalthea belonged as well to several Societies, scientific, philosophical and musical especially. It chanced therefore that one smoky evening at the end of October 1824 she made her way to the house of a similarly notorious lady to hear an excerpt from Beethoven's new symphony, his Ninth. The entire work was scheduled for its official London premiere the following March, but an enterprising member of the Philharmonic Society of London had adapted the choral movement for two pianofortes and four singers.
Lady Amalthea arrived as punch was being served out, and circulated for a while chatting with others in her dazzling and disreputable set, as Mrs. Denbigh wandered after her like an amiable little dog. There were young intellectuals, feminists, politicians, musicians, even an actor or two, and one gentleman to whom her eye was particularly drawn. He was lean, saturnine, darkly handsome, reminding her rather of a clean-shaven Mephistopheles, and this alone would have been enough to pique her interest in him. However, the more Lady Amalthea saw of the gentleman, the more she was convinced she'd seen him somewhere before.
When they entered the ballroom, furnished with chairs for the performance, she was pleased to note that he took his seat near hers. He caught her eye, smiled and nodded, with a certain quizzical lift of eyebrow that made her heart race pleasantly. All thought of potential trysts fled from Lady Amalthea, however, when she glanced down at the lyric translation sheet she had been handed.
Schiller's sentiments charmed her, appealed to her sense of idealism. That the beggar and the Prince might be brothers! Heroes striving toward noble conquest! A benign and starry universe in which universal liberation waited! And then the music began ...
Lady Amalthea sat bolt upright, spellbound. Her eyes were bright, her lips moist, her breath came quickly. Even Mrs. Denbigh nodded along in what she perceived to be time. When the glorious music ended, Lady Amalthea sagged backward in her chair, panting, one hand on her bosom, quite overcome. Had the composer been present, he would most certainly have been embraced by Lady Amalthea, and there and then invited back to her boudoir.
Unable to confer such favor, Lady Amalthea settled for milling about afterward, excitedly discussing the symphony with her acquaintances. She made discreet inquiries as to whether the tenor or baritone might be interested in coming home with her for a cup of cocoa, only to discover that Lady Maria P. and Mrs. H. had beaten her to them; but so elevated were her spirits still, in the music's afterglow, that Lady Amalthea was yet smiling as she took her leave and swept out, Mrs. Denbigh trotting behind her.
Here, however, fate took an odd turn with Lady Amalthea. Her footman appeared, sweating and muddy, to inform her that both rear wheels had unaccountably fallen off her carriage. Even as she was registering this, a gentleman's suave voice spoke next to her ear, offering her a seat in his own conveyance. Lady Amalthea turned and came face-to-face with the dark gentleman, who bowed and kissed her hand.
He identified himself as Dr. Nennys, reminding her that they had been introduced at a supper party some months previous. Lady Amalthea was happy to accept his generous gesture on her own and Mrs. Denbigh's behalf. He gave them sips from a small vial of brandy concealed in his walking-stick, against the evening's chill, and chatted with her about Beethoven as they waited for his coach to be brought. In short order both Lady Amalthea and Mrs. Denbigh were comfortably seated in Dr. Nennys's coach. He bowed, wished them a good night, and shut the coach door. They rolled away into the darkness. Lady Amalthea remembered glimpsing a pair of All Hallows' Eve bonfires low-flickering, burning down to coals at the bottom of the drive.
And that was the last thing Lady Amalthea remembered with any clarity.
There was a confused dream, to be sure, dimly recalled afterward: she was in her private chamber with Beethoven, and he was a glorious giant, a hero, of godlike physique, profoundly amorous. Oddly enough, the act of love itself was a little chilly and awkward, even uncomfortable. There was a sense of indignity. But the music welled up and floated her away to bliss, fully orchestrated, and the soloists had the voices of
angels. Lady Amalthea wept for happiness at the spirituality of it all. Pleasure was given even to the Worm, and the Cherub stands before God ...
She woke, warm and rosily content, in a bed; but not her own. Lady Amalthea rolled over and stared in some confusion at the Honorable Henry B., with whom she had carried on sporadic amorous relations during the past year, though not as recently as her equally passionate relations with Lord F. or Pratt the gardener. Confusion gave way to horror as Lady Amalthea spotted the Honorable Mrs. B. lying just the other side of her husband; but Lady Amalthea's consternation was as nothing to the Honorable Henry B.'s, when he opened his eyes and saw his erstwhile mistress lying beside him, fully clothed.
Frantic inquiries and denials were hissed back and forth sotto voce. A discreet exit was somehow contrived, both parties white and shaking, as Mrs. B. slept on untroubled. Lady Amalthea was obliged to take a hackney coach to her own residence, where she found Mrs. Denbigh peacefully unconscious on her bed, though likewise fully clothed. When roused, and made to understand that something was amiss, Mrs. Denbigh was unable to provide any details about anything that had passed the previous evening.
So it was with some alarm, two days thereafter, that Lady Amalthea heard that Dr. Nennys had come to call upon her. She met him with trepidation well concealed, however. He greeted her with the utmost courtesy, apparently much concerned. His coachman had informed him that, upon the night of the concert, Lady Amalthea had ordered him to drive her to Lord F.'s residence and there leave her, with the request that Mrs. Denbigh should be taken on to the house by Hyde Park. Dr. Nennys wished to be assured that nothing improper had taken place. Lady Amalthea assured him that nothing had, and he took his leave.
Yet by Twelfth Night, Lady Amalthea had determined beyond all doubt that something improper had certainly taken place with someone, though whether with Lord F., the Honorable Henry B., or indeed Pratt the gardener was anyone's guess.
Lady Maria P. was able to provide Lady Amalthea with excellent practical advice, having been in such circumstances herself. Lady Amalthea shortly announced her departure for an extended tour of the Continent, and retired instead, under an assumed name, to a private establishment in the country. On the first of August she was delivered of a vigorous boy. Consigning him into the hands of the proprietress of the establishment, Lady Amalthea packed her bags, returned to London, and never troubled herself to think of the matter again.CHAPTER 2
1825: Adagio Molto e Cantabile
Mr. Septimus Bell was a gentleman, if of comparatively recent gentry. He was small and dapperly made, with smooth dark hair and rather fine dark eyes. He married one Dorothea Carr, a lady small and vivacious, as like him as a sister might be in appearance, and the two were as happy together as a pair of robins in one nest.
The nest they preferred was situated in London, at No. 10 Albany Crescent, a nicely furnished terrace house with a complete staff. Richardson, the butler, was a former sergeant-at-arms and kept the establishment running with military precision, so the happy couple had little more to do with their days but bill and coo.
After ten years of married bliss, however, their mutual affection had yet to produce a child. This was the only shadow on their happiness, but it loomed more darkly with each passing summer. The household staff observed that Mrs. Bell was now given to occasional weeping fits at the slightest provocation. She complained of headaches and unspecified malaise, and often sat gazing mournfully out into Albany Square, sighing whenever a governess and her charges passed the window.
Mr. Bell was at his wit's end seeking to make his wife happy. For the first time, quarrels, or something perilously near to them, could be heard emanating from the love nest upstairs. Distinguished doctors came to call at No. 10; patent nostrums arrived by post, as did a number of patent devices whose functions could only be guessed at by the scandalized household staff. In the course of time, however, all these efforts bore the desired fruit. Mrs. Bell was suddenly smiling through her still-frequent tears, and Mr. Bell stood perceptibly taller, walked with a perceptibly lighter step.
The incipient heir was formally announced to the household. Congratulations were tendered from all the staff. An expectant hush settled on No. 10, and Nature took her course.
The long-awaited day, Lammas Eve, came and stretched into night, and thence into another day, as a second doctor was called in to consult with the first. The two maids ran to and fro on their tasks, periodically reporting back to the staff downstairs. By noon of the second day they were in tears. At last they came down slowly, silent, and only patient questioning on the part of Richardson was able to elicit news of the arrival and subsequent departure of a small boy, the image of his father but blue as the Bluebird of Happiness. He had never been persuaded to take so much as one breath of mortal air.
The well-appointed nursery sat empty, while the funerary arrangements were made. The ghastly prettiness of the tiny coffin and hearse, all white silk and winking crystal beads, the little confection of a white marble gravestone selected by Mr. Bell, the avalanche of consolatory correspondence, all had their due effect on Mrs. Bell's nerves. She took to her bed and went mad. Weeping incessantly, she insisted that her child had not died, that the fairies had stolen it away, and implied that Mr. Bell was no manner of a man if he failed to go into Fairyland and retrieve it for her.
Mr. Bell went instead to Brook's, and remained there, gambling away a great deal of money. He had very nearly bankrupted himself, and was considering whether he ought to quarrel with a noted duelist or simply borrow a pistol and take matters into his own hands when he was approached by a fellow member.
For a brandy-sodden moment Mr. Bell thought Dr. Nennys was the Devil, dark and sleek and faintly smiling as he was; but Dr. Nennys spoke solemnly and, indeed, kindly, asserting that Mr. Bell's headlong rush to self-destruction was ill-advised. He pointed out that, sad as Mr. Bell's loss had been, countless other parents suffered bereavement daily and the ways of the Almighty were not to be questioned. He proposed, in any case, to ameliorate Mr. Bell's sorrows both familial and financial.
There was, it seemed, a child born the selfsame day as Mr. Bell's own boy, to a lady of noble blood by a lord similarly well-bred, unfortunately without benefit of clergy. A suitable home was wanted for the young person. Dr. Nennys had been authorized to seek out appropriate foster parents for him, and moreover to offer substantial monetary compensation, paid quarterly. Dr. Nennys named a certain sum, and Mr. Bell's eyes widened. It was more than enough to offset his losses at cards. Stammering, he accepted Dr. Nennys's offer. Dr. Nennys arranged to bring the infant to No. 10 that evening, at a discreetly late hour.
At midnight precisely a black coach drew up before No. 10. A black-veiled woman emerged with a bundle in her arms. Mr. Bell hurried down the walk, closely followed by Richardson. The coachman leaped down, set a trunk on the pavement, resumed his seat and drove off at some speed. The woman nodded curtly to Mr. Bell and informed him she was the infant's nursemaid, that her name was Mrs. Melpomene Lodge, that the infant was Edward Alton Fairfax, and that she would be pleased to inspect the nursery at Richardson's convenience.
The following morning Mr. Bell preceded the breakfast tray into Mrs. Bell's sickroom, bearing the infant dressed in one of their dead child's gowns. When Mr. Bell had got her to look at him, he announced that he had gone to Fairyland as she requested, and brought back their son. Mrs. Bell left off crying, astonished, and as she stared at him he set the infant in her arms. She looked down at it.
Nothing was said for an interminably long moment, in which Mr. Bell had occasion to reflect that this child bore no resemblance to the one they had buried. It was bigger, robustly pink, and had an abundance of fair hair. The only mar to its perfection was a slight bruise on the bridge of its nose. Mr. Bell held his breath, waiting for a reaction from his wife.
At last Mrs. Bell said that it had no eyelashes. Mr. Bell replied that they were certainly there; the infant was simply too fair for them to show much. She acknowledged this by pursing her lips slightly. For a while longer she continued to regard the infant, as though puzzled, and at last laid it down on the counterpane. She thanked Mr. Bell, but said she didn't think she wanted it, and might she have her breakfast tray now?
The housemaid, who had been waiting all this time with Mrs. Bell's tray, thrust it at Mr. Bell, caught up the infant and rushed from the room in tears. Aghast, Mr. Bell waited on his wife, trying to think of a way to explain that they must keep the child or face financial ruin. To his great relief, Mrs. Bell made no further reference to it, but dried her eyes and spoke calmly and coherently of small domestic matters, the first time she had done so since the death of her son.
Indeed, from that day her madness receded, until only those who had known Mrs. Bell in happier times would have said she was in any way altered. The servants remarked, amongst themselves, that she had quite a different expression in her eyes now. She was willing to tolerate the infant's presence to a certain extent, though as it grew older and obstreperously affectionate she became reserved and withdrawn, and endured its visits in tight-lipped silence. Mr. Bell, desperate to please his wife, took her away to the Continent when she was well enough to travel. In the pleasant air of Italy her spirits revived considerably. Husband and wife walked together, admired the scenery together, posed for portraits together, and were very nearly happy again.
The infant was left at No. 10 with the servants.CHAPTER 3
1826–1839: Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?
Robert Richardson had served with distinction in the 32nd Regiment of Foot, and had in fact had his left leg shot from under him at the battle of Waterloo. Invalided out of the Army, he had lived with a married sister while seeking employment. Having had some experience as a footman before joining the Army, and being possessed of an upright and dignified bearing not with standing his prosthetic limb, he was shortly hired as butler at No. 10 Albany Crescent. This proved satisfactory to all persons concerned.
He expressed no opinions on the irregular manner in which young Edward Fairfax (or Bell, as the infant was hastily dubbed, even though it was obvious there was no need to engage in any further charades for Mrs. Bell's benefit) had entered the household. If he felt it was a shame that Mrs. Bell never so much as inquired after the little creature, or that Mrs. Melpomene Lodge seemed too sternly efficient, more like a sergeant herself than someone intended to care for a child, Richardson kept his reservations to himself.
The below-stairs servants were more forthcoming in their judgment. While no one felt Mrs. Bell could be blamed for going mad, her lack of affection for young Edward was roundly condemned, and it was felt that Mrs. Lodge was a cold-hearted bitch who had no business minding babies. Consequently on her days out the boy was brought downstairs and tended by Cook and the parlor maids, who showered him with affection.
Excerpted from Not Less Than Gods by Kage Baker. Copyright © 2010 Kage Baker. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Meet the Author
Kage Baker lives in Pismo Beach, California.
Kage Baker was an artist, actor, and director at the Living History Centre and taught Elizabethan English as a Second Language. Her books include In the Garden of Iden, Sky Coyote, and Mendoza in Hollywood, among many others. Born in 1952 in Hollywood, she lived in Pismo Beach, California, the Clam Capital of the World. She died on January 31, 2010.
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Not Less Than Gods By: Kage Baker This book is a great book to read. There is so much that is going on that it will have you wondering what is lurking around the corner.Edward is recently returning from war. He is taken under the wing of the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society. In the beginning Edward is adopted and tolerated by his adoptive parents and mostly ignored. His adoptive parents took him in to erase their debt and fix a heartbreak. Edward feels that the military will offer him purpose and escape. Edward learns that a secret world is beneath the society of London when he joins the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society. I would read it because it is filled with action and danger at every corner. It is a book that has spies in it and a lot of kids wanted to become a spy when they were younger. Now you get the chance to become a spy in this book. I liked the ending, but lets just say their are going to be more books like it. The length of the book is 319 pages, so it is not that long. The plot is to kill people who are enemies of the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society and trying to have power.
I have come late to Kage Baker's work. The good part of that is how many wonderful books I have yet to discover; the sad part, that I cannot tell her how much I enjoy them. So I must confess that NOT LESS THAN GODS is the first book of "The Company" I have read. For those familiar with this world, a story of "how it all started" furnishes background to characters and situations already known. The litmus test of such a tale, however, is whether it stands on its own without any referents. In short, this one does, and more, just what I would expect from Kage Baker. On the surface, NOT LESS THAN GODS is a sort of steam punk, secret society, coming of age story, as agents of the British branch of a clandestine organization attempt to direct the course of history in the mid-19th Century. Readers will recognize some actual events, like the Crimean War. The settings range from stolid to exotic as our characters travel eastward across Europe to Russia. Woven through the various missions is the story of one particular character, conceived and raised under mysterious circumstances. Clearly, Edward Bell-Fairfax has been shaped as the perfect assassin; he's almost superhumanly strong, tall, intelligent, with mesmeric persuasive talents. However, he also has a conscience, ideals, the capacity for compassion. If he brings to mind Frankenstein's monster (and there is a single brief reference to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley on the first page), or the golem to which he is compared later in the book, he differs from both in being his own creation. For me, the most moving parts of the story involved his dawning understanding of the moral consequences of the uses and misuses of the tremendous powers with which he has been endowed. Certainly, he can seduce a woman in such a way that she desires the encounter, but what at what cost to her--and to himself? Likewise, the assassinations he is called to execute force him to examine relative and absolute values. What is one life against many? When does a target stop being a cardboard figure and resolve into a human being? What is the cost of taking a life, regardless of the justification? This depth of examination, coupled with an unwavering moral center, imbue the pages with a complexity, unity, and emotional meaning far beyond any simple adventure.
This is an odd book, a standalone Company novel that I think would actually work better for someone who does not know the series than for those of us who know and love it (which might explain the very lackluster reviews I've seen of it online). Not Less Than Gods is written in a third-person omniscient near-objective mode, meaning the narrator knows everything about everyone in the story but rarely delves into their thoughts and feelings, staying detached. Despite what the jacket would lead you to believe, it never enters Edward's head -- he is a cipher to those around him and to the reader. I resented this mode at first -- it seemed to leave a great gaping hole in every scene -- but the introduction of Rabbi Canetti reveals that this was a very deliberate choice on Baker's part and one, in fact, that I believe would make the book for those who have not read the Company novels (and have the eyes to see it). To one who has not encountered the Company before, this novel has a central theme -- the danger of creating a monster and then giving it a soul. It is a Frankenstein tale, plain and simple, with Dr. Nennys as Dr. Frankenstein and Edward as his monster -- a subtler monster than Shelley's, but just as horrifying to the average bystander and just as innocent. We the reader cannot see Edward's perspective for this to work, however, because he does not know that he is a golem; the objective tone Baker uses reinforces her message. The novel still is not entirely effective; I think it would have been stronger had Baker dipped more into the ancillary characters' heads, and it is rather slow starting and episodic throughout. It is also more steampunk than I expected, paying far more attention to the workings of all the wondrous machines than were really warranted by the story. But I think that if I did not know the Company novels already, I would have been quite moved by the climax as Ludbridge watches Edward realize what exactly he is. However, I do know the Company novels, and I have met Edward before. I know his history already. Most importantly, I know how much more of a complete person (as opposed to a golem with a soul) he is than this book gives him credit for, so I am resistent to giving him the pass that this book provides him on all those shady ethical issues. With all that extra knowledge, I was left almost entirely cold by the novel. I wanted, instead, the novel that the book jacket led me to believe this was -- a real dip into Edward's psyche before Mendoza ran into him in California, something more realistic psychoanalysis than allegory. Or, at least, something with a bit more humor and action, some of the dashing zest for life it seemed Edward had (in amongst his raging egomania). So all in all I'm frustrated by this novel, but I nonetheless hope it does well, and it would be very nice if it finds an audience outside of Baker's core Company fans.
In London in 1825, unmarried Lady Amalthea R. gives birth to a boy. Neither aristocratic parent wants to raise him so Dr. Nennys leaves the newborn with Mr. and Mrs. Bell who recently gave birth to a stillborn. They reluctantly take the unwanted infant into their home, but mostly ignore him. Eventually Dr. Nennys ships the neglected child, Edward Bell-Fairfax, to boarding school. Edward joins the British navy, but his childhood and his unique skills of instant reaction thinking and super strength make him a loner, who fails to fit in with bands of brother warriors. He leaves unwelcome again, but Edward joins the Company of scientists and undercover agents. Dr. Ludbridge tutors Edward who is amazed with the friendly acceptance of him as well as the annual message from the future. The teacher and his prize student travel to the continent where Edward tries to influence the outcome of the Crimean War. He learns from his effort that to achieve his idealistic vision of a better world, good intentions are not enough and dirty deeds are sometimes the only solution. This work of speculative fiction is an intriguing look at the past of one of the more fascinating Company characters; before Edward and botanist Mendoza becomes a pair. For die hard fans of the recently completed saga only who will appreciate how far Edward came from being unwanted, abused and neglected with only sinister Dr. Nennys interested in manipulating the child to take advantage of his uncanny skills. Yet through all that he remains an idealist who finds his niche with the Company and his soul with Mendoza.