Review: Guardian of the Dead

April 30, 2011 at 12:42 pm (5 stars, Australian, review) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Pages: 348, paperback

ISBN: 9781741758801

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Genre: YA / fantasy / romance / mythology: New Zealand / fairies

Source: library

Premise:

Seventeen-year-old Ellie Spencer is just like any other teenager at her boarding school. She hangs out with her best friend Kevin, she obsesses over Mark, a cute and mysterious bad boy, and her biggest worry is her paper deadline.

But then everything changes. The news headlines are all abuzz about a local string of serial killings that all share the same morbid trademark: the victims were discovered with their eyes missing. Then a beautiful yet eerie woman enters Ellie’s circle of friends and develops an unhealthy fascination with Kevin, and a crazed old man grabs Ellie in a public square and shoves a tattered Bible into her hands, exclaiming, “You need it. It will save your soul.” Soon, Ellie finds herself plunged into a haunting world of vengeful fairies, Maori mythology, romance, betrayal, and an epic battle for immortality. (Taken from Goodreads)

Buy it from: The Book Depository / Amazon

The story starts off really well. It sets up a creepy tone from the very beginning by mentioning a really weird murderer called the Eyeslasher (you can already guess how this guy kills their victims…). As the story progresses, it keeps its creepiness, instead of just going through phases, which is a major bonus.

The characters are interesting, and through them, the theme of sexuality is touched upon. Ellie’s sister is a lesbian, but it wasn’t taken well with her parents–to the point that they’re scared that Ellie would “catch it”, if she had stayed with her sister instead of a boarding school. I’m a bit disappointed that she doesn’t have a larger role, though.
Ellie’s best friend, Kevin, is asexual, and Ellie helps him deal with it, and supports him. This shows a lovely bond between the two of them, and makes me love their representaion.

Ellie isn’t perfect, but is always comparing herself to others. She’s never quite good enough, she thinks, and once she finds a mask, she feels better when it’s on her face, since she isn’t herself anymore. Her description of the mask on her face, after she ends up controlling someone:

“I knew it had been wrong, what I’d done to Chappell–but the adoration, the love, that felt so good. And it was something I was never going to get without the mask’s help.” -pg 237

Now, that’s a bit frightening, that the power of the mask makes her feel loved in such a way that she thinks she’d never feel it without the tool. It just shows how imperfect and flawed and real Ellie is. She’s described as a large girl, not very attractive and rather plain. This is the sort of stuff I want to read in stories, not perfect pretty girls who get the hot guy.
Ellie is also usually very passive. If someone (i.e. Mark) tells her that she couldn’t possibly understand some secret magic thing, she backs down and even apologises for being curious and wanting to help. It was sort of… tragic, and I could sort of relate to that.

Mark is a bit of a dick at the beginning of the story. He mind rapes Ellie and makes her unable to remember what he did to her. Now, as mysterious and hot that he apparently is, I can’t forgive that sort of ass-fuckery. And when Ellie realises that she’s starting to like him, that her feelings have gone beyond that of a crush, I want to shake her and remind that that he controlled her thoughts. She herself ended up mentioning that should shouldn’t love him because he “enchanted and lied” to her.
Though, regarding this, the concept of rape is discussed: Ellie herself is put into two near rape situations in the same night, and it is implied that because Mark’s father didn’t know what Reka was, the consent may have been misgiving and should not have been used. The way that Healey handles this topic is really well done, and I’m fairly impressed for the most part. The reactions are realistic, and the situations aren’t easily forgotten like in other YA’s.

This story is set in New Zealand, and follows Māori legends, which is a nice change from all these westernised myths that have gotten boring. I’d love to see more books of this type that follow legends from “obscure” places. The portrayal of New Zealand is interesting, and feels so realistic. The setting itself ends up feeling another character, which isn’t easy for most authors to do, I’ve noticed.

The plot is complicated and well thought-out. In the first hundred or so pages, it moved slowly, giving the reader slight hints. Whenever something was revealed, it came as a great surprise, and left me wanting to know more. Though, at times, it felt like I was sitting in a history lesson, and there were pages upon pages of explanations about the legends and the culture. It was slightly jarring, but the plot itself was enough to keep me from putting the book down. And sometimes, the information was interesting, even if the method of delivering it wasn’t.

Everything in the story is connected in some way, from the mask that lay unmentioned for close to 100 pages to Mark’s charm bracelet that seemed unimportant when it was first mentioned. It was all these clues that made me love this book even more.

The ending was sad and sweet and hopeful. Unfortunately, it also left it open for a sequel, but hopefully, it won’t come to that. It ended on a nice, bittersweet note, and I’m actually quite satisfied with it.

Would I recommend it? Yes, a thousand times yes. It was practically perfect.

I absolutely cannot wait for the next novel by Karen Healey, coming out in September of this year.

Cover Art: 4
Plot: 5
Characters: 4
Writing: 4
Level of Interest: 5

Total Rating: 5/5 stars

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4 Comments

  1. Glaiza said,

    The characters seem interesting and sound like they’re different from some of the YA trends – will definitely check it out!

    • nlmars said,

      Ooh, I’m glad you’ll check it out. I hope you’ll like it. 🙂

  2. The Book Wurrm said,

    I quite liked this too. And I agree, the insertion of the myth was really clunky and that detracted a couple of points for me. however, it is something fresh which is quite a feat nowadays.

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