Book Review: The Guardians by John Christopher
While I was searching for a book published in the year I was born, I came across this title: The Guardians by John Christopher. I immediately got a little giddy. I remember Mrs. Snellback in the sixth grade recommending The White Mountains to me. A book set in the future where the human population is controlled by these weird Tripod machines. She got me hooked not just on this series, but science-fiction in general.
I read the entire trilogy and years later when John Christopher wrote When the Tripods Came I read that too. If you have not read these books, they are worth checking out. But be sure to read them in the order in which they were published. Since When the Tripods Came is a prequel, reading it first will ruin the original trilogy for you. So save it for last.
Now, The Guardians also takes place in a future dystopia. The opening chapters center around London in 2052, but the story eventually includes the English countryside as well. While the world seems to have its positive points, like no starvation, there are still drawbacks. War still exists, but it is far away in China.
Technology has advanced to include holovisions, visiphones, sound-grams, electrocars, and monorail trains. When the protagonist Rob, a teenage boy, reads about a London that included gaslight lamps, he thinks the story is a fantasy.
The story opens strong with the suspicious death of Rob's father, an electrician. Rob's mother died years earlier, so he's temporarily cared for by one of his dad's co-workers and friend. Rob discovers letters his mother wrote and learns that she was from the County.
Here's where the plot slows down...a great deal. He doesn't know much about the County, except that it's segregated from the Conurb, where he lives. He's sent to a boarding school and eventually runs away, sneaking into the County thinking he may find a connection to his mother there. Getting Rob to the County took four chapters, out of the book's ten. The pacing is a bit painful.
Once he reaches the County, he has no plan and no supplies. And he sees people riding horses and wonders why they aren't in electrocars. A member of the gentry, another teenager named Mike discovers Rob and hides him. Even this plotting is slow. Finally, chapter five ends with another person discovering Rob's existence, and things start to look up.
The County is quite different than the Conurb. There's no holovsion. Holovisions, and those who enjoy this baseless entertainment, are sneered at. They do make limited use of technology in the County, but mostly they are content to live in their little Downton Abbey world of aristocracy upstairs and servants downstairs.
Christopher begins to truly explore the differences in class structure between the County and the Conurb with some conversations between Rob and Mike. They examine why the servants of the gentry accept their station without question and even look down upon the ignorant masses living in the Conurb. Rob begins to fit into this new world and gets comfortable in a new role that Mike helps him with.
Of course, other young characters appear, but they are quite forgettable. There are rumblings of revolution and the plot moves onward.
The significance of the title does not become apparent until the final chapter. And in this last chapter Rob does struggle with new information he receives about his world. He begins to realize that his dad's death may not have been an accident. And then he makes a life-changing decision. And then the book ends.
I am not kidding. I was reading the Kindle version of the book, and I'm terrible at looking at the Table of Contents for books on the Kindle app. I didn't see that there were two excerpts from other John Christopher books, so I really thought I was 84% through the actual book. And then the story ended.
My first reaction was to look up if this book was part of a series. It's not.
While I love the philosophical questions that Christopher explores in this book, and the fact that he presents complex ideas in a way for a younger audience to grasp, the overall pacing of the story leaves too much to be desired.
I decided to view this story as an attempt to recreate The White Mountains. There are glimpses of great storytelling here, but the execution is limited. I do wonder if he was ever going to write more about Rob and Mike.
I am glad that I read another book by John Christopher. When he died in 2012, I got a bit nostalgic, remembering that he was the author who sparked my interest in science-fiction, particularly dystopias.
I would like to read more by him. If you've read John Christopher, what titles do you suggest?