Set in the year 2052,
the novel depicts a future, authoritarian England divided into two
distinct societies: the modern, overpopulated "Conurbs" and the
aristocratic, rarefied "County"; the former consists of crowded city
districts and all-pervasive technology while the latter is made up of
manors and rolling countrysides typical of 19th-century England. The
novel follows a young Conurban named Rob as he comes to experience life
in both worlds, uncovering truths and choosing sides in the process.
The beginning of the cold weather brought a desire to disappear into the clutches of an old favourite and having read both 'Empty World' and 'The World in Winter' fairly recently another John Christopher seemed like the way to go.
In 'The Guardians' we have what in many ways is a book that, rather unexpectedly, explores similar ground to 'Nineteen Eighty Four' particularly in the books denouement.
Young Rob Randall, born into a working class family in an industrial town (or 'Conurb') and raised by father, is essentially different from both his peers and the other inhabitants of the Conurb, isolated by his bookishness and by his loner tendencies. Orphaned early on in the book and sent to an extremely strict boarding school from which he promptly legs it Rob finds sanctuary in the anachronistic idyll of the 'Country'. As Rob makes the transition between the two worlds he is very much
caught up in all his new life has to offer whilst conversely his arrival
offers new perspectives for his new Country friend, Mike, and so as Rob finds refuge and friendship with Mike's kindly family things slowly start to spiral out of control.
For much of the book this is very much an examination of both class and the city / country divide. The Conurb dwellers are ill-educated, brutal, obsessed by violent sports and dismissive of those they feel to be lazy and purposeless Country snobs. For their part the Country dwellers are idle and rich, entertaining themselves with parties, athletic sports days, hunts, hobbies and gossip and are dismissive of the boorish, violent, uncouth Conurb folk.
It's an almost typical Christopher novel in that it hares along with his easy prose carrying you through the book yet it also feels slightly unfinished; not so much in terms of the book itself but rather unfinished as a story. You are left with the suspicion that Christopher was leaving the door open for a sequel that never happened. Also there are marked similarities here to the French chateau sequence in the first of his Tripods trilogy, 'The White Mountains'.
As ever though this is a perfectly enjoyable read that manages to create a fairly honest and realistic(ish) world and a fun little story in a very limited number of pages. It's far from being one of his best but when nothing else offers itself up it's well worth an evening of your time.