The first book in Monica Hughes's Isis trilogy, The Keeper of the Isis Light, is a masterpiece and arguably her best work. It is both a love story and a poignant comment on prejudice. Hughes explores, in this light adventure romance, the nature of what it means to be human.
This book is a real page-turner as the author gradually reveals its two surprises: Olwen's physical appearance and the fact, unrealized by Olwen till the last pages, but probably guessed by the reader, that Guardian is a robot.
There are other small surprises, such as the revelation that Olwen's pet, Hobbit, is not only a large, hairy animal but actually quite fearsome in appearance. The beast that Guardian has given the taxonomic name Draco hirsutus is not the large dog-like animal the reader may have assumed from Hobbit's friendly behavior in chapter 1. Hobbit is a large, hairy dragon, but as gentle as a dormouse. The pup Olwen later finds in a northern valley weighs a hundred kilograms or more.
Another small surprise is that the Captain of the Pegasus Two, Jonas Tryon, is more willing to accept a variety of conditions provided that they are identifiably foreign from what he expects to see. After he has climbed laboriously up the steep stone "staircase" of the mesa to the terrace, Olwen's home is not a rustic cave; it is seen by him as beautiful when he compares it to "an incredibly expensive hotel on the French Riviera which he had once visited, when he was younger and more reckless, and a new captain's pay had seemed like a fortune." More revealing is his opinion of Olwen herself, detailed below.
The settler Mark London is younger and more inclined to enjoy everything he sees on Isis. He has, after all, chosen to emigrate here with his parents and younger sister Connie. His appearance makes a big impression on Olwen—he is taller than Guardian's two metres, with a mop of brown hair, pink skin with freckles, blue eyes streaked with brown. He is warm and friendly from their first meeting in the new village.
Mark is one of eighty settlers: first there are the ten couples under twenty years of age and, next, ten childless couples aged from twenty to thirty. There are ten married couples between thirty and forty years old, with twenty children among them ranging from young Jody N'Kumo at nine to Mark, who is seventeen.
Jody comes across as younger than his age in some ways because he is the youngest member of the colony, too little to do much of the interesting work as the village is constructed. New colonies do not bring small children to wander off and succumb to conditions less dangerous for stronger and experienced youths. Jody is almost too young to emigrate, but he is a bold child not afraid to explore on his own in this valley free of dangerous animals. Nor is he afraid of Olwen when she appears without her mask, and he calls her the "funny lady." He blithely assumes, as children do, that if he needs help some grown-up will come and help him, and is not alarmed by Olwen when she saves him from certain death. Because of this rescue, the settlers are more willing to accept Olwen, though they pity her visible differences.
The only other settler who is named and has an active role in the story is the young doctor, Phil MacDonald. A redheaded Scot, he is an energetic and enthusiastic guardian of his new community. He is the only settler who understands Guardian well and can work with him when Mark is injured, and when insisting that Guardian explain to Olwen the changes that have been made to her.
The most strongly realized characters in The Keeper of the Isis Light are Olwen Pendennis and her Guardian. All others are peripheral, even the "love interest" because Mark is mostly just a healthy young man whose essential nature is shown only in his brief note that Guardian brings to Olwen.
Guardian is described mostly as Olwen sees him and interacts with him. He is tall, about two meters in height, and golden skinned, always wearing a tunic. Olwen can feel the aliveness in him when he puts an arm around her shoulder or sits near her.
When Guardian first appears in the novel, he stands very correct and formal, but there is "a hint of a smile upon his normally sober face." Since Olwen is later fascinated by the facial expressions of Mark, the reader can infer that Guardian's impassive face is not as expressive as a human face; it is clear, however, that Guardian has become very expressive of subtle nuances of feeling through choice of words and cadence of speech, through gesture and his behaviors. He learned to do so in order to be a good caretaker for the young child entrusted to him by Olwen's dying mother.
Olwen is a confident, strong, and strong willed young woman of sixteen earth years, or ten Isis years. Her first reaction to the news of the settlers' arrival is resentment, but her natural traits...
(The entire section is 2008 words.)