Joe Haldeman,
(Ace, 2002)

I think that it's likely that there isn't a person on the planet who hasn't wondered how his choices and decisions have an impact not only on his own life but on the lives of the people around him. It isn't such a reach to extend this thought to the rest of the universe, which is exactly what Joe Haldeman has done in his novel Guardian, set in the late 1800s.

Rosa Tolliver is disappointed in her marriage to Edward Tolliver, but she endure's her husband's abuse and callousness until she discovers that their 14-year-old son Daniel is also a victim, She and Daniel flee their Philadelphia home, taking with them the gold left to Rosa by her parents, and they end up heading for the Alaskan gold fields.

Throughout the years, a raven appears to offer a warning or a suggestion, and when a devastating crisis strikes Rose, the bird reveals itself to be something more than a mere avian. The bird -- which can transform into other shapes -- is a "guardian," a traveling being who observes the universe born out of each decision and action. The final time he appears to Rosa, it is to give her the opportunity to save herself and by extension, the whole world.

The narrative is well-paced and descriptive, told through Rosa's observations in a journal. She is a wholly sympathetic character, strong, feisty and resourceful, but Haldeman takes care not to make her son a male clone of Rosa. Daniel is moody and impulsive, sometimes nearly reckless, and through these traits his character emerges.

The story could easily have done without the science fiction twists and turns; the descriptions of their travels and their experiences in Alaska are engrossing in themselves. The science fiction element, while hinted at, doesn't mesh as smoothly as it might have, partly because it is introduced so late in the book.

This is a readable enjoyable book, but tighter editing and extended development of the science fiction storyline would have resulted in a strong story.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 9 August 2003

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