Review: Winged Isis by Jean Stewart [review by Lori L. Lake]

Winged Isis
Jean Stewart
Bella Books/www.bellabooks.com
2002/$11.95/232 Pages/ISBN: 1931513015
From 1992 to 1995, Jean Stewart published three speculative adventure/romance books about the women of Isis (Return to Isis, Isis Rising, and Warriors of Isis). Upon completion of that trilogy, it seemed that the story of the Isis society and the two main characters, Whit and Kali, was completed. Not so. Stewart surprises and delights with a new trilogy beginning with Winged Isis.
The women of Isis live in Freeland, a democratic city-colony on one half of the U.S., which is protected by an invisible Border. On the other side is Elysium where religious fanatics, corrupt men, and the regulators, a Gestapo-type of police force live violent, miserable lives. The highly technological and deadly Elysium men want nothing more than to destroy Isis and take their resources, and only the Border shield powered from the satellites is stopping them. They have been kept out for over eight decades, but now the Border shows signs of decay and breakdown.
Tomyris “Whit” Whitaker and her psychologically adept partner, Kali Tyler, are leaders in Isis who want to prevent disaster before the Border breaks down. The satellites which power the invisible shield must be repaired. But there is dissension in the ranks as well as treachery and sabotage. Can the satellites be repaired? And what sacrifices will be made? Kali is pregnant with their child. Will they manage to maintain a society that is safe for their unborn daughter and for all children? Or will they fall prey to the violent, fundamentalist Elysians?
Jean Stewart has created a fascinating society that is especially interesting because harmony is not necessarily the state of affairs in Isis. Unlike many Utopias, the women of Isis disagree and fight about things, and power struggles are typical. The secondary characters are strong and fully fleshed out, and provide a worthy counterpoint to Kali and Whit’s struggles on behalf of Isis.
Stewart’s writing style is crisp and clear. She gives enough back story to thoroughly ground this new trilogy in the facts of the previous books without overwhelming the reader, and then she moves quickly into the meat of the conflict. Unlike many sci-fi/fantasy stories, the author doesn’t resort to magic and highly fantastical tricks. The women in Isis are scientifically and psychologically gifted, and they use those talents as much as possible, but their society is not a world of sorcery and magicians. This places Stewart’s work in its own special category: a hybrid of science fiction, adventure, and romance in a uniquely lesbian framework.
Winged Isis has a complex plot, a fast pace, compelling characters, and a surprise ending that will leave the reader excited and ready for the next book in the series, which, one can only hope, will be published soon. Winged Isis is marvelous storytelling, and I give Stewart sincere kudos for bringing the women of Isis back to life again.
Lori L. Lake has been an author, editor, teacher, retreat leader, and creativity coach, and, until a few years ago, a book reviewer as well. She’s written a dozen novels, two short story collections, and edited four anthologies. Her work has won three Goldies, three Rainbow Awards, the Alice B Medal, and the Ann Bannon Award. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and is currently working on her next novel and a nonfiction writing book about creativity. Website: www.LoriLLake.com.