The Guardians is set in a near-future society which has two class divisions: you either live in an area called the Conurb or the County.
Life in the Conurb is fast. People work hard for a living and play hard. Rioting is a common sight on the streets, and the primary means of entertainment in this overcrowded society is holovision (presumably what television is destined to become). Reading is largely a thing of the past.
So we come to the County. People live in quaint houses surrounded by acres of lush grassland. Transportation over distances is largely a matter of horse-riding; there’s not a car in sight. People live in luxury and have time to pursue hobbies of one sort or another. A tall, electrified fence separates the County from the Conurb, stretching across the entire country, and no one on either side lives within several miles of it. There aren’t many attempts to cross this border. Most people are content in their differing ways of life. So why rock the boat? you might ask. Why seek to change the world when everybody’s happy with things the way they are?
This is the question which faces a boy called Rob, a young Conurbian whose father has recently died. Also motherless, and faced with the harrowing prospect of life in a children’s home, Rob sets off on a journey for the County, where he hopes to make a better life for himself. After a few minor scrapes, Rob manages to get across the border, and is taken in by a kind family. No sooner has he had a taste of the good life, when he hears of plans to storm the fence and end the division.
I love adventure stories that involve a journey. Christopher’s The White Mountains stands out as a wonderful example. Where The Guardians fails is in Rob’s motivations. Travelling across the country selfishly seeking a less larsh life can hardly compare to The White Mountains, where three boys seek flee from a society that is intent on stripping them (and everyone else aged fourteen) of their humanity by means of a mind-control device. Actually, this theme of mass mind-control is visited in the closing chapters of The Guardians, and the more of Christopher’s novels I read, the more that I realise that this is a theme which is close to the author’s heart. However, I have to say The White Mountains does it much better.
Another problem with The Guardians is that Rob takes a back seat for much of the story, merely observing the actions of others rather than carrying the story forward himself.
I struggled with this novel. It just didn’t have the pace and excitement of some of Christopher’s other writings.