Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (2010)

She tilted a glance at me as she passed, and I saw her eyes, undimmed by dusk and fog. They were strong and dark — like greenstone under water — but there was something wrong with them. It took me a long moment to realize that her face gave reason to my fears.
The woman had no pupils (p 26).

guardian-of-the-deadSet in New Zealand, Guardian of the Dead is based in Maori mythology and cosmology (with a few creative alterations) and follows Ellie as she comes into her magical inheritance while at boarding school. Kevin, her mate, begins spending time with the bewitchingly beautiful new girl, Reka. Meanwhile, her crush, Mark, takes notice of Ellie but the memories of their conversations are blurry and half-formed. When Ellie realizes she is being charmed, she opens herself to dangerous fairy magic and a fairy plot to murder millions of humans.

Ellie was immediately recognizable to me. She isn’t gorgeous or popular, but a more realistic pleastly-plump girl who makes friends more easily with guys than gals because of her easy going and light-hearted nature. Yet she walks a fine line between inhibiting insecurity and nascent desire. She was my anchor in this otherwise  inconsistent novel.

I was unable to immerse myself in this book. While some of the dialog was clever/cute, it did not endear secondary characters to me so I found myself putting this down often.

I’ve also noticed a trait shared by several YA fantasy books I deem subpar and that is subplots involving characters performing Shakespeare. In this novel, Ellie is recruited to choreograph fight scenes for the local university’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play and Ellie’s interest in the Classics are meant to help introduce readers to Maori mythology. It certainly helped Ellie make sense of her new weltanschauung but it just didn’t work for me.

Not a bad first novel, but I am surprised it was nominated for a William C. Morris YA Debut Author Award. Ultimately, the award went to The Freak Observer.


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