Dwayne's Reviews > Guardian of the Dead

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
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's review
Sep 04, 2010

really liked it

Reviewed @ Girls Without a Bookshelf.

It's not often in young adult literature that find myself immersed in a completely brand new culture, but while reading Guardian of the Dead I find myself in exactly that. Karen Healey's novel brings to vivid life the richness of Maori culture, painting myths and beliefs in strokes so detailed, it had me captivated from beginning to end.

I am a language and culture enthusiast, but I have not quite grasped what Maori culture has to offer until I read this book. Guardian of the Dead gives such exquisite detail to Maori mythology the book itself takes almost a magical quality. I felt that thrill I remember feeling as a child listening to the re-telling of various legends and myths. Maori mythology is epic - it's a story on a large, grand scale. My reading was two-fold; I was reading to learn about Maori mythology from the perspective of someone being introduced to it the first time, and reading to align said mythology to the plot. Like any, Maori mythology is, at times, violent with grim and bloody images. It's troubling, it's creepy, it's beautiful. But it's also solid, and it's unique.

Apart from Maori mythology woven into the plot, the uniqueness of Guardian of the dead also springs from its diverse characters. From Samia, Ellie's religious muslim friend, to Kevin, her asexual best friend, the characters in this book depict the portrayal of a multi-cultural society and more. Ellie Spencer herself is a three dimensional character whose strength, determination and honesty drew me towards her. Her insecurities are relatable, her actions understandable - her attributes reflect those of whom I see myself hanging out with. These characters are also connected to the mythology and the twists surrounding that adds further to the intricacy of this book. I am also a fan of the romance in this book - I like how it was not the whole focus of the story, but it's a strong part of it. Ellie and Mark are two wonderful puzzle pieces together, developing from barely friends to trusting partners. And while the ending is not exactly happily ever after, it's plausible, it ties the plot neatly and is open to further exploration. It's one of those books that is excellent as a stand-alone, but I'd a sequel for.

While reading, I found the narrative to be fragmented at first. However, that was soon rectified and explained, and it was a smooth flow from hence. I think it's worth noting that there are a lot of Maori terms in this book, so unless you're familiar with them it is easy to be confused. At first I felt as if the book was written for those who already knew Maori mythology - or Maori words at least - but as the plot deepens, it becomes clear that readers do get an in-depth explanation of a lot of things. I still ended up having to search online for meanings - but rest assured, there is a glossary at the end which lists and explains these. However, I usually avoid looking at the end pages before reading as I am weary of spoilers, so I did not notice the glossary until after reading. It would have been nice to know the terms beforehand, but I suppose a re-read won't do any harm, would it?

With an epic mythology, a great plot and diverse characters, Guardian of the Dead should be enjoyed by everyone, fan of mythologies or not. If you're a culture enthusiast, a YA lover and are interested in the coming together of the contemporary and the ancient, this book is made for you!

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