1981’s The Guardian of Isis is the second volume in Monica Hughes’ Isis trilogy.
Fifty-five years after Pegasus II delivered eighty-odd colonists to Isis, sole habitable world of the star Ra, the human numbers have swelled to about eight hundred. Only a few of the original colonists are still alive. David London is one of those few. When his father died, David grabbed the office of president for himself. He has never stepped down. David has spent his long decades in power enforcing his vision of the perfect community: advanced technology forbidden, strict taboos imposed, women reduced to the status of domestic animals. Above all: no exploration of the world outside their small valley.
Jody n’Komo, one of those eight hundred colonists, is the grandson of one of David’s bitter (vanquished) rivals; he has the misfortune to look like his grandfather. David has transferred all the hate he felt for the grandfather to the grandson. Sooner or later, he will find some crime for which to punish young Jody.
David enforces his own, odd religion. He teaches that there are two divine beings, one good, one evil. The Shining One, a good god, is the valley’s guardian. His antithesis is That Old Woman, the Ugly One, who stands for all that is bad and wrong with the world.
The Shining One has not spoken directly to the valley in years but from time to time he sends gifts to the colonists. These gifts, once discovered, are tucked safely away, to be shown only to a chosen few.
Jody (curious, creative, bright) discovers one of the gifts. David is forced to recognize Jody’s achievement and deputizes him to stand vigil over the holy relics.
Jody realizes the latest gift is actually a replacement part for older machinery, he repairs the machine. Another achievement, another item on David’s grudge list.
The final straw is Jody’s claim that something must be done about the rising waters in the valley’s lake. This is David’s opportunity, He suggests that Jody is the right person to solve the problem. David orders Jody to leave the valley in search of the Shining One, who will (no doubt) solve the problem handily.
The region around the valley is inhospitable to human life; this is effectively a death sentence.
Except… Jody’s ancestors came from African highlands. The conditions in the mountains are not quite sufficient to kill Jody. He survives the journey. He meets the Shining One. And the Ugly One. And Jody learns much that David would prefer be forgotten.
The Guardian of Isis seems to be rather unfortunate where covers are concerned.
This is not a Lost Colony story; it is not set in an interstellar dark age. The Shining One has been assisting the colonists with their stated desire to be left to follow their own path (and perhaps avoid Earth’s errors) by warning off would-be visitors. There may be a thriving interstellar community, for all we know, but it does not extend to Isis.
The Ugly One is Olwen, the actual protagonist of this book. She is another of the original colonists. David once courted her … until he saw her true face. Olwen had been modified to survive on Isis unprotected. David did not deal well with her actual appearance. The Shining One is her guardian robot.
David has reimagined the object of his infatuation as a goddess of pure evil. This is only one way in which he is a terrible, bad, no-good person. He has institutionalized misogyny. He has transformed his community into a bunch of superstitious peasants too worried about taboos to deal with a possible flood. He uses his position to try to send the grandson of a rival to what David believes is certain death. David has virtually no redeeming features.
Olwen and her guardian, in contrast, are very nice people, which makes the ending of this book utterly baffling. Jody has risked his life to save his people from a calamity for which David is in large part to blame, But Olwen asks Jody NOT to use what he has learned to expose or depose the tyrant. It’s not clear why Olwen takes this stance. Does she still have some affection for the deranged old coot? If so, she is not being kind to his unfortunate subjects.
Until the very end, this was an engaging tale of non-conformity and exploration. One wonders if the third volume makes sense of Olwen’s position.