Appetizer: Seventeen-year-old Ellie Spencer is the new girl at the Mansfield College boarding school in Christchruch on the South Island of New Zealand. She's only managed to make one friend so far, and that's Kevin, who has just recruited her to help out with some university students' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, choreographing the fights. Ellie is a little wary to go outside after dark to make the practices though, since the Eyeslasher killer is murdering people and stealing their eyes and since the cute loner boy, Mark Nolan, cautioned her against it. Although, Ellie can't quite remember what he said to her....
She's been having several strange encounters lately. There was that moment when she saw the new actress from the play outside in the fog and it looked like she didn't have any pupils or irises in her eyes at all. And she seems to have set her eye-less sights on Kevin. Ellie is going to have to unravel the mystery of who this woman is and what Ellie herself is.
ALA Morris Award (which specifically goes to debut authors). I can totally see why it is a finalist. Healey does an excellent job at writing slightly-humorous and pithy language. Ellie is not only a believable character, but she's also wonderfully strong and empowered, especially when compared to some of the other leading ladies in a lot of the paranormal romances. (Twilight and Hush, Hush, I am looking in your directions! It was actually very interesting reading this so soon after finishing Hush, Hush because in both books a male love interest screws with the minds, in Nora's case from Hush, Hush, causing her to see things that then disappear and in Ellie's case to forget her encounters with magic. But where Nora just starts to seem vaguely crazy and never really calls out her stalker/fella on his disturbing mental powers except to ask which events were real or power induced hallucinations, Ellie kicks Mark's bum-bum for his behavior while interrogating him. Literally. Well almost literally, her hits actually land on his head (which is where she was aiming, because she is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do). YAY! EMPOWERED ASS-KICKING WOMAN!!!!!!!!! I loooove yoooouu and I'm not afraid to admit it publicly. Obviously.
And then! when Ellie later realizes that Mark isn't just a boy she has a crush on, she narrates:
"He looked at me, calm and beautiful in his borrowed clothes, and I saw again the bravery that had first made me love him.
The thought hit me like a hammer between the eyes. I could not love Mark. The idea was impossible, even if there wasn't a hidden ware and a horrible disaster fast approaching. A harmless crush on a handsome loner classmate was one thing; hopeless yearning after someone who'd enchanted and lied to me [was] something entirely different, and much more dangerous." (p. 209)So, there is still a wee-bit of stalking and angsty imbalance of power within the couple initially, but at least Ellie is critical of herself, of Mark and of a potential relationship with him. I feel like Guardian of the Dead is really speaking back to some of the paranormal romances out there. And that, of course, made me very happy.
Of course, there's a lot more to this book than it's kind-of romance. New Zealand is also in danger because some mythic creatures have a massive scheme to restore their immortality. The fact that it could cost millions of humans their lives doesn't bother them. So, it falls to Mark and Ellie to try to stop them.
Ellie was also great because she honestly presents the way she sees her body in comparison to other girls around her. When she initially describes herself, she says she is tall and due to the "stodgy vegetarian option," she's "gone up two sizes to something that...approached outright fat, without even the consolation of finally developing a decent rack (p. 5)." She compares her appearance to the girls around her, feeling like they outshine her, but somehow manages to be very...un-annoying about it. Just realistic. Plus, when guys do show romantic interest in her, she doesn't doubt their intentions. She seems to see both the good and bad aspects of being the size that she is.
Despite the fact that my knowledge of New Zealand is limited to sheep, Peter Jackson movies and (more specifically) Lord of the Rings nerdiness, Healey did a great job of welcoming me in as an international reader to the world she was creating (although once or twice I did feel the compulsion to look up a plant name or two to try to picture them). I especially liked that when she included aspects of the Maori culture and faith that she assumed the reader would know nothing (I know I knew almost nothing...except for some brief images of poi dancing from a TV show or two. Ooh, and there's the one dance before the final game in the movie Invictus. Was that an actual dance? I am naive of these things. If somebody would like to write more books or pay for my trip to New Zealand than I would be happy to learn much more. I would want a knowledgeable tour guide who can bring history to life with just his or her words. Takers?)
Focus, brain. Focus!
Guardian of the Dead proved to be a great, sinister, supernatural mystery that had a lot of great mythological elements. And I'm not going to lie, I officially fell in love with the book when I hit page 87, when religious beliefs were explored and book officially made it into a section of my dissertation, by presenting Ellie's uncertainty over her own beliefs, which I thought was a more realistic approach to exploring myth and religion than any of the other books I've read for my dissertation have presented.
"I opened my eyes.
My legs were bound and my head ached. There was one dark moment of disorientation before the bad-dream fog abruptly lifted and I woke up all the way and rolled to smack the shrilling alarm. I was exactly where I was supposed to be: in my tiny room, lumpy pillow over my head and thick maroon comforter wrapped around my legs. I disentangled myself and kicked the comforter away. The muffled tinkling as it slithered off the foot of the bed reminded me that Kevin and I had stored the empty beer cans there.
Well, that explained the headache" (pp. 1-2).
"Hey, did you hear there's been another Eyeslasher murder?"
I grimaced. "Samia said in Geo. A phone psychic in Tauranga. God, I hope they catch the bastard soon."
"Me too. Murder's bad enough, but taking their eyes is sick."
"I think the murder probably matters more."
"Sure, but eyes are tapu, Ellie."
I blinked at him. Kevin's parents, on the two occasions I'd met them for uncomfortable dinners, had been as stiffly Anglo-Saxon as posh New Zealanders came, but Kevin's light brown skin wasn't the result of a good tan. I knew that his great-grandmother had been Ngai Tahu, and that he was one of the leading lights of Mansfield's kapu haka performance group, but I hadn't realized his desire to learn more about his roots had meant this much investment in Maori beliefs about the sacred" (pp. 12-13).
"Mark had done something to me, and I couldn't come up with a logical explanation. So I went with the illogical one.
Magic was real." (p. 91).
"In less than a day, I had been harassed, enchanted, shouted at, cried on, and clawed. I'd been cold, scared, dirty, exhausted, hungry and miserable. And up until now, I'd been mildly impressed with my ability to cope" (p. 178).
Tasty Rating: !!!!!