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Book Review: _The Anvil of the World_, by Kage Baker
Bar Harbor
This is a book I felt ambivalent about going in. Here's another female author taking time off from her well-loved SF series to do something completely different over in Fantasy. (Not that I totally hated the Chalion books, or anything, but I'd have rather had more Miles.) Moreover, reviews mentioned that it was a "fix-up" of three novellas. The last book I read by Baker, _Children of the Company_, was a "fix-up", but a particularly poor one. That is, the component stories were still good, but the stitching holding them together was almost insultingly bad. And, for a final strike, it was advertised as "Humorous", which is a taste that often is hard to mix with Fantasy.

Semi-digression: There was a discussion on rasseff recently about Humor and Fantasy, successful and unsuccessful examples. There seemed to be some concensus that Humor works much more consistently when applied to Low Fantasy rather than High Fantasy. Astonishingy enough, there was also concensus on how to define the difference between the two - Low Fantasy deal with problems on a scale of individuals; High Fantasy is about the problems of Nations (or even larger entities).

So, I didn't buy the book in hardcover, and not even right away in paperback. But then I happened to pick up a Year's Best Fantasy volume that contained a piece that was apparently connected to this book, and which I quite enjoyed. So I got the book. It was *much* better than I had feared, and is in fact highly recommended.

The book deals with the travails of a man called Smith. He's a good man, just trying to get by in a difficult world. In a clear nod to the usual Fantasy flaw of having every name be unique, several other characters named Smith are introduced in the first few pages. He lives in an intereting world, that doesn't have many of the standard tropes (and twist the ones it does use). Smith's culture is technologically at the beginning of an Industrial Revolution, but there is also magic (and gods and demons) complicating things.

In contrast to _Children of the Company_, *this* fix-up is *excellently* structured. While I can see how she provides enough information that each novella could stand quite well on its own, she varies the exposition-by-implication enough to avoid any feeling of repetition for the reader of the book. Moreover, it turns out to actually have the structure of a novel; themes and plot elements that seemed to be background color in the first two parts are revealed in the third to have been important foreshadowing, helping lead to a satisfying conclusion. Interestingly, especially with regard to the digression above, is that the first two parts are clearly Low Fantasy, while the third modulates seamlessly into High (with a corresponding diminishing (though not elimination) of the humor element).

Speaking of the humor element, it's less significant than the reviews led me to believe. Inever had a laugh-out-loud moment. OTOH, I *smiled* a *lot*. The book has an essential optimism that makes it a delight to read. Although Bad Things clearly can (and do) happen in this universe, there is a pervasive feeling that Progress Is Possible, that evil can be redeemed and transmuted. I wouldn't want to sound treacly (Baker certainly doesn't), but the best word I can think of is "uplifting".

Highly recommended. While I'm still interested in how The Company storyline ends, I'm now more eagerly looking forward to more of this sort of book from her.

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Dammit people! Stop giving me suggestions for *fun* books to read! I don't have time!

::dives into a pile of Ethics and Post 9/11 civil liberties and gangsters::

Hey, do you have her Company books available for lending?

I've read the first one and am vaguely interested in reading the others, but I want to read them in publication order and haven't managed to find the second book (_Sky Coyote_) yet.

The related question is do you think the books are worth the time? I thought that the first book was ok, but more for the idea of the Company and its operatives than for the actual story.

Yes, they're available for lending.

_Sky Coyote_ is actually my favorite of them, so that one is definitely recommended.

Is the series as a whole worth the time? Enh. The over-arcing story about "The Company" doesn't really pick up steam until Book 4; the earlier volumes are all individual stories. (Mind you, in hindsight, they were cleverly setting a lot of groundwork.) There are more cool ideas developed, but at the same time, plausibility suffers. You know the old saw about how every SF story is allowed one totally implausible plot element as a "gimme", so long as they keep everything else plausible? Well the Company backstory has a *lot* of "gimme"s in it. I've enjoyed them enough to want to see how it all turns out, but not necessarily enough to recommend them. Decent entertainment, but hardly High Art.

I like the series, but I recommend skipping the even numbered novels and short stories. Though Sky Coyote is quite enjoyable, it's not essential to the overall story. Unfortunately, Mendoza in Hollywood is essential (and my favorite of the series) and probably very hard to find (until Tor reprints it in May).

skipping the even numbered novels and short stories.

If you do that, you'll miss all of the material involving the (avoiding spoilers) original colonists of Catalina Island. Of course, they are one of the plot elements that I classify as "one gimme too far", so maybe that's a plus. But I can't help but think they'll be terribly important to the overall plot in the end.

Mendoza in Hollywood is essential (and my favorite of the series)

Wow, our opinions really differ on this one. I recently reread the series to date, before catching up with the latest volume. The last bit of MiH was, as remembered, exciting. But before that, there are literally hundreds of pages where *nothing* happens! Interesting characterization and slice-of-immortal-life, but the "essential" plot doesn't kick in until the book is 90% over.

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