Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead is excellent. If you like stories, enjoy debates about the affects of stories on our lives, if you like good fantasy, or scary fairies then you need to read this book. I would absolutely recommend this book to everyone I know, even if they don’t fit those categories. It’s just that good.
If I were to describe it: it’s an amalgam of Tam Lin, Beauty and the Beast and mixed with Maori legends and super awesome.
I have one minor nit-pick to get out of the way before I start gushing, and it’s more of a copy type deal. I get annoyed when foreign words are italicized in the text. Not sentences, but the individual words. For example, “She is ma belle
.” I feel it gives unwarranted emphasis to that particular word and it throws me from the rhythm of reading. However, I understand it’s a trope of written English so I deal. The problem I had with Guardian of the Dead is that some of the Maori words are italicized and some are not. I get the feeling that the words that are not italicized are in common use in New Zealand English, but I’m American and those words are still foreign to me. (This is another reason the trope bugs me. English is different, in some places one word has entered into common usage, and in other places it is still a foreign word.)
So what did I love? Ellie is this strong formidable rock of a character. She has her insecurities, but they never dominate. She deals and moves on. I love her. She’s capable, she kicks ass (literally) and yet you get the feeling that violence is always her last resort, she’s smart if perhaps unmotivated.
Perhaps my favorite character was Iris. She’s an awesome secondary female character. Not the best friend, not the villain, just another character who shows up, is an important part of the book and is awesome and female. And I think that’s pretty rare in YA books. You have the main female, occasionally a female villain, and then perhaps a best friend who often disappears early on, or is not important to the plot. Occasionally there might be a minor, minor female, often in the form of an authority figure. Iris is none of these. And yet she’s important, and amazing. And I think every time she said or did something in the book I thought, “I LOVE HER”. Yes, in all caps.
And then there’s the ending. Healey is not one to ascribe to the belief that evil can be fought and then everything rubberbands back to goodness and light. Stopping the horrible takes sacrifice, and it changes you. There is loss, but also gain. And magic is not the cure-all. There are issues in using it, especially to make others do things. Ellie has her memory erased early on and it’s jarring and Healey does not shy away from the issues with violation anytime that happens; including when Ellie has to do something similar herself. And can I just input that I love how Healey wrote the memory erasing, and all of Ellie’s interactions with Mark up to the point she broke the spell. There’s an element of uncertainty that really comes across. Though you, the reader, know what’s going on, you’re also not quite sure just how far Mark’s influence goes. And it’s creepy.
There’s a strong theme of consent that runs through the book. Ellie gets most angry at Mark (the love interest and so much more) when he denies her knowledge and thus impairs her ability to consent to love him.
Look I’m going to stop spoiling it, just go out and read it.