the Little Red Reviewer

In The Company of Thieves, by Kage Baker

Posted on: November 13, 2013

In the Company of Thieves, by Kage Baker

Published November 2013

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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I’ve been a devotee of Baker since reading her The Anvil of the World, a hilarious fantasy adventure novel. Then I read the first company novel, In The Garden of Iden, and I fell in love with her dry humor, her snarky immortals, and the innocence of a new hire who never asked for any of this. Kage Baker is one of those authors who should be on the shelf of any speculative fiction fan.  Once you read her, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

In the Company of Thieves is a collection of six Company stories, many which were previously published, including The Women of Nell Gwynne, Rude Mechanicals, and Mother Aegypt.  Kage Baker was very close with her sister Kathleen, and each story has a very short introduction by Kathleen, giving some background about when or why it was written, sometimes why Kage was drawn to that location or plotline. The Baker sisters grew up in California, so many of the stories take place in some of Kage’s favorite places in California. The final story in the volume, Hollywood Ikons, was finished by Kathleen after Kage’s death.

Not sure what Baker’s “The Company” is?  The best summary I can find for The Company is on the blurb for the book, so I shall borrow it:

“The Company, a powerful corporate entity in the twenty-fourth century, has discovered a nearly foolproof recipe for success: immortal employees and time travel. They specialize in retrieving extraordinary treasures out of the past, gathered by cybernetically enhanced workers who pass as ordinary people. or at least try to pass. . .

There is one rule at Dr. Zeus Incorporated that must not be broken: Recorded history cannot be changed. But avoiding the attention of mortals while stealing from them? It’s definitely not on the company manual”.

Immortal cyborgs stealing stuff? Historical fiction? Madcap adventures and tricking dumb mortals?  Where do I sign up?

Rude Mechanicals – Anytime recurring Company characters Joseph and Lewis show up, you know trouble and hijinks are on the horizon. A Shakespearian comedy of errors, the story takes place in 1930’s Hollywood. Lewis is working as an assistant and translator for the famous German director Max Reinhardt, who is directing and producing an outdoor version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Joseph has been tasked with acquiring Reinhardt’s notes for The Company, so it’s a good thing Lewis is an expert forger. To complicate matters (and by complicate, I mean create hilarious situations for the reader to enjoy!), Reinhardt keeps digging up trees to make his set look better, and his earthworks are getting way to close to a particular buried treasure that needs to stay buried for a little while longer, as per Company request. Comedy of Errors ensues, with a secret diamond getting passed off as costume jewelry, getting actually stolen, and actually gotten back. Lewis makes the perfect “straight man”, a guy who just wants to do his job, not get fired, and get some damn sleep. Joseph on the other hand, thinks this is the most fun he’s had in centuries!

Carpet Beds of Sutro Park –  The Company surgeries didn’t work so well on Ezra.  I don’t know if he was on the autism spectrum before, but he never spoke another word or looked someone in the eye after the surgeries that turned him into an immortal Company operative. The Company has invested too much time and money in Ezra to give up on him, so they task him with being a “human camera”. Every day, Ezra walks the same path at the same time from his apartment to Sutro Park. He watches and records everything around him, and fixates on a particular young woman who also spends a lot of time in the park. The two of them watch in sadness as the park falls into disrepair over the years.  One of the many things I loved about this story is that Ezra has no idea who he is working for.  Because of his situation (disability?) he is insulated from the pain and frustration that so many other Company operatives experience.  In spite of that, Ezra has the power to give the woman in the park, KristyAnn, one perfect gift.  He’s never even spoken to her, and still, they have an amazing connection.

Sutro Heights Park is a real place, a family estate that in 1938 was donated to the city of San Francisco and became a public park. I like to imagine that Kage enjoyed the sights of park while drafting this story.

The Unfortunate Gytt – I can’t be the only one who pronounced it “git” and got a chuckle every time the man’s name came up!  Marsh passes his initiation of sorts, and is brought into what he thinks is some kind of gentleman’s society. Next thing he knows, he’s being dragged to Roslyn Chapel to help look for some ancient Templar treasure and some kind of alloy called Gyttite that reacts to electrical currents.  What Marsh doesn’t see is that he’s just a local fixer for The Gentleman’s Speculative Society, i.e.; the Company.  They need a metalurgist who won’t ask questions.  Right at the end though, Marsh starts putting two and two together. If the story were longer (which I wouldn’t have minded!), I’m sure he would start asking some very important questions.

The Women of Nell Gwynne – this is the most famous story in the collection, it won the World Fantasy Award for best novella, and was nominated in the same category for a Hugo. Written in 2009 at the height of the Steampunk trend, Baker put her twist on everyone’s favorite subgenre.

Due to details that I won’t get into, Lady Beatrice finds herself flung from high society. Needing to support herself, she chooses an occupation that “worse than death”, that of being a prostitute.  Luckily, Lady Beatrice is found by Mrs. Corvey, the proprietress of Nell Gwynne’s a famous brothel.

prostitutes and brothels. still reading?  Of course you are. Because if you’ve gotten this far in the review, you trust that when Kage Baker gives you a bedroom tale, you should know that nothing is what it seems.  Corvey isn’t just a madam, and Nell Gwynne’s isn’t just a brothel. Yes, the ladies who work there are paid for their “bedroom work”, but they are paid far better by their real client, The Company.   Mrs. Corvey was approached by The Company years ago, and in exchange for replacing her failing biological eyes with cybernetics, she makes sure her ladies coquettishly ask the right questions of the right men. Such transactions are recorded, for posterity, of course. Because Corvey would never stoop to blackmail. Or at least, she’d never get caught.  As Beatrice gets settled in, she learns how things really work at Nell Gwynne’s, and we meet other ladies who work there as well.

Lady Beatrice and three more experienced ladies are sent as “escorts” to the county estate of Arthur Charles Fitzhugh Rawdon.  Rawdon thinks he’s getting some whores for the weekend to entertain his wealthy guests, but the ladies have a mission to find out exactly what he’s auctioning off, and where the hell he got it.  But the increasingly rude guests don’t know anything, and before dawn there is a body at the bottom of the staircase. And I’ve only told you the boring bits of the story!

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So many of these stories were only previously available in special edition printings, or other collections that are out of print, so this new volume from Tachyon Publications is an excellent (and affordable!) way to get your Baker fix.

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16 Responses to "In The Company of Thieves, by Kage Baker"

Well, you’ve done it again…..just added the first Company novel to my TBR list. Thanks!

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you’re welcome. :D

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What timing. I just requested the first of the series from my library last night. Thanks for pointing out Anvil of the World though, I love humor in my fantasy.

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awesome! let me know what you think of The Company books! I need to get back into that series.

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I loved Anvil of the World so really looking forward to this one.
btw – reading A Natural History of Dragons – such a gorgeous book and so damn good to read!
Lynn :D

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oooh, that Marie Brennan is SO good! She’s working on a 2nd one, but I don’t know when it will be out. hopefully soon!

I didn’t think these stories were quite as funny as Anvil of the World, but they are still tons of fun. oh hey, wait a minute, *WINK* of course you’ll be able to read these soon! *WINK*

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I’ve been a devotee of Baker since reading her The Anvil of the World, a hilarious fantasy adventure novel

Oddly, and maybe I read it at the wrong time, I bounced off that novel and didn’t care for it. Haven’t read any Baker since.

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i freely admit that it took me about 70 pages to realize Anvil was supposed to be funny. after that, i enjoyed it immensely. And that has certainly happened to me, where I pick something up, don’t care for it, pickit up again 6 months later, and then do just fine.
Or that book may just not be your thing. Give something else she wrote a shot, see what you think. :)

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I’m thinking this might be a great way to sample Baker’s writing – I’ve been interested since reading about her before on your blog, and I’ve found some great authors through their short story collections. Thanks for sharing this one, Andrea =)

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short stories are a great way to see if a writer’s style is for you. For the longest time I wasn’t really into short fiction at all, and these last few years, i can’t get enough. It’s like having the best dinner ever, because it’s made up of all my favorite appetizers. :)

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Haha, that’s a brilliant way of putting it!

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Aw, yay, I’m so delighted to see Kage Baker getting some love around the blogosphere. On another blogger’s recommendation, I read all of Kage Baker’s Company books in one huge gobble a few years ago, and it was one of the most fun and awesome reading experiences ever of my life. Such a cool series.

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I know, right?

WOW, you read all the company books, one right after the other? Ok, since you are the expert, please help me out on reading order. Other than reading the first one first, do you have to read all the others in the order in which they were written, or can you dive back in anywheres?

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I read the first three Company novels and found each a lessor book than the previous one, so quit the series. I really loved THE BIRD OF THE RIVER FROM 2010. I was very saddened by her death. I have and have been saving The Best of anthology.

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i came this close to buying the Best Of, but at the time it was beyond my budget.

need to keep my eye out for The Bird of the River. I’ll probably still keep reading in the Company series, see how far I get.

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[…] Andrea reviews In The Company of Thieves by Kage Baker […]

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