"You're Ellie Spencer." I opened my mouth, just as he added, "And your eyes are opening."
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 killings that 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 in an epic battle for immortality.
Debut author Karen Healey introduces a savvy and spirited heroine with a fresh, strong voice. Full of deliciously creepy details, this incredible adventure is a deftly crafted story of Māori mythology, romance, and betrayal.
Karen Healey writes books about tough girls with brains and interesting boys with secrets. She likes nail art, superheroes, and musical soundtracks. She technically lives in New Zealand, but really lives on the Internet.
There is a lot to love about Guardian of the Dead. Here's the shortlist:
- a smart, kind of nerdy heroine - the freedom/restrictions of boarding school - use and explanation of Maori myth (by a white author who has the balls to point out in the text the colonial nature, possible inaccuracies, and just plain wrongness of Maori myth written down by white people) - high school use of a university library, because serious shizz calls for serious research - patupaiarehe (fairy-type creatures), one of whom is Titiana in Iris's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream -- because I'm not the only one who likes art to imitate life - casual treatment of varying sexualities* - a hottie who is half-Maori, half-...well, something else
and I could go on. But do you want to know what I loved the absolute most about this book? The ending. I won't go into detail (or talk about the "action" ending) because I don't want to ruin it for you (cause oh-my-gosh is it cool), but I can still tell you why I love this ending.
Things go crazy, Ellie falls in lurv which may become love in the future, and Ellie and love-interest have to save the world. It's life-changing, obviously, but Ellie doesn't let it derail her life completely. She doesn't possibly blow off her art school application (The Lost Saint) or get married right out of high school (Twilight Saga) or ditch her best friend in the face of tru lurv (Infinite Days) and harsh circumstances (Extraordinary) or even, and this is the big one, drop out of school in order to save the world which apparently cuts off the possibility of being a brilliant academic and instead becomes a mostly silent side-character in the round-up-the-loose-ends epilogue (Hermione. oh Hermione).
Instead, Ellie keeps going, gets excited about going to college and majoring in Classics, and tells love-interest that she'll visit him when she's on break. She simply takes all that she's learned from these life-changing events with her, because that's what smart girls do.
So, if you want to read an urban fantasy (a little light on the urban grit) or paranormal romance (a little light on the romance) that's headed by a smart girl, this is your book. It's also your book if you want to read the Maori Percy Jackson equivalent, a good boarding school romp, a murder mystery, a different kind of fairy book...
Book source: Philly Free Library
*How often do you see YA books with a teen character who is asexual? Not often. I'm not going to lie and say it's not a big deal at any point, but it is not THE big deal. And it is not a problem ever, except to the people crushing on the character. :)
Guardian of the Dead is a unique YA novel that takes place in New Zealand and involves Māori (indigenous New Zealand) myths. I wanted to love this novel so much, and almost did. Unfortunately, it suffered from a severe case of literary ADD. Did it want to be a coming of age novel? Māori folktale? Urban fantasy adventure? Love story? Of course, it can be all of this and more, but when one aspect of this story picked up, the others would suffer.
Guardian of the Dead begins with seventeen year old Ellie in the middle of her first year at a private boarding school on New Zealand’s South Island. Initially, the reader becomes invested in Ellie’s world as she struggles to fit in, crushes on a mysterious loner, and starts discovering clues that something in her world is amiss. The Ellie we first meet is a smart, snarky girl who would be a great protagonist if it weren’t for her ridiculously low self esteem. Yes, this is a YA novel, and teens are infamously insecure, but Ellie takes it up a notch. She frequently describes herself as a girl who is both overweight and extra tall. While at first it is interesting and refreshing to read about an overweight main character, it becomes old very quickly as so much of Ellie’s inner monologue is self-bashing over her size.
Although we first meet Ellie at her exclusive boarding school that is not what this story is about. As with many YA books these days, as the story picks up, Ellie’s teachers, homework, and responsibilities quickly fall to the wayside. In fact, Karen Healey introduces so many ideas and concepts and story lines that Guardian of the Dead doesn’t really flow into a seamless novel. Everything ties together but I couldn’t help thinking that this novel needed a bit more focus. It either needed to have some sections cut, while others were expounded upon; or it needed to be turned into a two or three part series. It’s hard to articulate what I mean without giving away spoilers. Guardian of the Dead introduces to many twists and ideas that all I can say is this ended up so much differently than what I expected when it began. Furthermore, ideas, people and small plot lines are introduced that don't actually matter to the ultimate climax of the story.
Finally, Guardian of the Dead takes place in New Zealand and involves a lot of traditions and culture about the islands. I couldn’t help getting the idea that this was written for a New Zealand or Australian audience because so many words, ideas, and attitudes were alluded to without a full explanation. Not that the novel suffered from it, everything was easily figured out from the context in which it was written. And truthfully, it was refreshing to read a novel about a foreign culture without a ton of info dump; however some background information would have been appreciated. Although I loved this story while reading it, and definitely recommend other fans of YA to check it out, I couldn’t help wonder if the main reason I like it so much is because it is all new to me? I love folklore and creation myths, and Guardian of the Dead has a ton of it. If I were at all familiar with the folklore in this book, would the lack of focus be more irritating? Possibly.
But despite it’s flaws, Guardian of the Dead also has a likeable central character, a mystifying mystery, and a sexy guy. What else does a decent YA need? =)
“You’ll see the big stories, the ones that have formed the shape of the world around you. And you carry your own mythologies with you, so you can see the stories that are important to you, the ones that parts of you believe.”
Eleanor Spencer is a good girl, so after her mother survives cancer and wants to spend some quality time traveling with her husband, she offers attend a boarding school. (Points for not whining about it. )
Then, paranormal stuff happen. Cute guys. Some crazy murders aside.
Other good points: Multicultural characters. Diversity ethnicity and gender orientation. Māori myths. Did I mention she is not-orphan, vegetarian but big , and can use taekwondo?
Not so good: Low self-steem (shocking in YA, right?). And about Mark . The other thing is when Ellie left for cofee, and
Una cosa que me resultó interesante con respecto a los mitos maories, con respecto a los dioses, es que me pareció bastante semejante a como cuenta el mito babilónco de los primeros dioses (Lo del dios, la hija, el incesto, la huida). Lo otro es lo que cuentan de los patupaiarehe, y creo que resulta evidente de donde sacó la idea Poul Anderson para The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories.
“Patupaiarehe look like monsters in some stories, but they’re beautiful in a lot. I guess people believed more in the beautiful version. And the ideal of beauty changes. If I’d been born two hundred years ago, I bet I wouldn’t look like this. The stories shaped me. They shape everyone, inside and out, but me more than most, because I’m magic.”
Me gustó tambien lo de como los mitos afectan a las personas, y como evolucionan con el tiempo, forman parte de uno, y se transforman mutuamente. Asi como que la mayoria de las historias antiguas que conocemos han sido escritas por occidentales, y adaptados por ellos.
Ahora, si nos queremos poner pesados podriamos decir que otra vez la chica rubia y blanca -Pākehā (es decir: no maori)- salva el dia, aunque fue un esfuerzo hech0 por varios y podria hasta referirse a la union de todos para salvar el dia (hasta con Iris haciendo su aporte). El intento de dar un cierto matiz de gris a los villanos se agradece.
Algo que no me gustó es que la chica de 17 años ande bebiendo cerveza y vino, sí soy densa con eso, y ´puede que les parezca normal , pero no tiene sentido en la historia y resulta idiota el "estoy sola voy a emborracharme hasta enfermar"... ug.
Lo que si nunca se explicó es ¿de dónde salió la máscara? La hizo alguien como el Smith, pero ¿por qué hace lo que hace y precisamente con esa persona?
Por otra parte, el epilogo me pareció de más, yo lo habria dejado asi, me refiero a lo de Mark. Aunque me gustó que no hubiera una insta-solución.
Eleanor (Ellie) Spencer is attending a boarding school in New Zealand in lieu of her last year at high school. Her parents have left on vacation to celebrate her mother's miraculous recovery from cancer, and they have left Ellie in the prestigious yet dreary Mansfield College. Things are shaken up a bit when her best friend, Kevin, becomes attracted to an ambiguous woman even though he has always claimed to be asexual. And later on Elie finds herself falling for the mysterious Mark Nolan, a young man in her Classics class that everyone seems to be talking about.
Guardian of the Dead never really caught and kept my attention. One contributing factor could be my lack of knowledge regarding Maori myths and folklore, as they seem pretty prevalent in the book. Sometimes when the characters described the myths I felt like they were reading it from a textbook, rather then having a normal conversation. At some points the book bored me because it felt as if the author was stringing events together instead of creating a solid storyline. Honestly, by the end of the book I was glad to be finished with it.
Still, the book had some good parts. People who are aware and understand Maori legends will wholly appreciate it, and devour all of the allusions and references in the novel. The horror and action sequences were great and provided a break from the slow pace of the first 200 pages. Healey's writing was good and she has a noticeable knack for imagery.
I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn't mind a slow start and individuals that know about Maori culture.
I was lucky enough to read this book in manuscript form. It's funny, intense, magical, dark, and scary - an urban fantasy for teens in a New Zealand setting so vividly and perfectly described that I honestly felt I was there, even though I've never been to New Zealand in my life. I love the distinctively different magic in this novel, and the emotionally truthful relationships among the characters. I can't wait to read many more novels by Karen Healey!
There will be serious spoilers here so you’ve been warned. Total rubbish. A mishmash of Maori and Greek mythology. Mostly a waste of time, sad to say. Lots of disjointed bits adding up to very little. The story is about Elllie (Eleanor) who makes reference far too often that she is too big and clunky and chunky and has no friends except one super-attractive boy named Kevin. It turns out that Kevin chose her for a friend because he has no sexual attraction toward her. He shares with her that he’s asexual. Now I’m confused because doesn’t being asexual mean that he doesn’t find anyone sexually attractive? So then wouldn’t he be able to hang out with any girl because he isn’t attracted to any of them? Why the big deal about Kevin being asexual? What was the point of this? Why this was a plot point didn’t make any sense to me, particularly when his sexual attraction to a supernatural being is what moves the plot along in the first half of the book. Ellie, at the request of the enigmatic hot-boy, Mark, has been asked to keep an eye on Kevin, to keep him away from the otherworldly scarily gorgeous Reka. Are you still with me? There are mentions to the Eyeslasher murders, a series of murders in which the victims eyes are cut out. Mark warns Ellie not to be out alone after dark. Woooooooo. Scary. What does he know? Ellie and Mark have some kind of odd connection that he can’t explain to her whereupon she proceeds to BEAT THE INFORMATION OUT OF HIM. (She’s a black belt in tae kwon do.) At this point Ellie isn’t a character I can support or feel any connection. She decides she will beat him up. Yes, he has done some questionable things, but physical violence??? No. Just no. Let's flip that around for just a moment. Would it be okay if he beat her up to get something he wanted from her? Would we think oh, he's a black belt beating up someone who isn't hitting back, carry on? Or would it bring on a feeling of outrage? In the midst of the beating, Ellie has the realization that Mark is, in reality, physically unable to say the words to explain things to her. She then tramples off to the library to research on what he can’t tell her. Of course since he can’t tell her, how does she have a starting place to research? Ellie has a few light bulb moments ending in her discovery that Reka is a Maori fairy or patupaiarehe. Once she figures it out then Mark can tell her what Reka is up to. Mark is her son by Kevin’s great uncle who was believed to have disappeared when he, the ujncle, was nineteen. Reka is now after Kevin so she can mate with him to make more of her own kind. It seems that Kevin, a Maori boy, has unknown magic as does Ellie. Ellie, Mark and another friend, Iris, manage to stop Reka from sexing it up with Kevin, who is oblivious to everything and even though the book has been, up to now, about saving Kevin, he pretty much leaves the story at this point. Ellis is attracted to Mark and when he’s feeling sad, she launches herself at his lips, only to blame him for this later and say he was trying to use her, to make her fall in love with him because it’s something that would save him. After the saving of Kevin, Mark tells Ellie about the patupaiarehe, sort of. Then, after a battle with some of them, Mark’s mother, Reka, shows up and tells them that the patupaiarehe have plans to kill off the North Island which is actually a big fish, causing a huge earthquake that will sink the island, killing everyone which will make the gigantic Guardian of the Dead (this is where the title finally makes a bit of sense) so overworked and so tired that she will sleep through one of the patupaiarehe climbing into her tooth-lined vajajay to give them immortality. The Eyeslasher isn’t a serial killer, but all the patupaiarehe (not Mark or Reka, though) who are killing anyone with magic and stealing that magic by taking their eyes. Ellie and Mark go off to save the North Island (after Reka lends Mark her eyes), calling on all the magical people they can. There is a war council while they all plan what they’re going to do and, of course, none of it works out as they plan. Mark is killed and… yes, I said Mark is killed. Ellie, with the help of a magic mask that loves her, goes to the Underworld to stop a patupaiarehe form getting into the Guardian’s huge toothy crotch and Ellie, of course, makes this whole Underworld trip naked. I have no idea why, but yep, naked. She comes across the spirit of dead Mark (who it seems it not naked) and tells him to follow her out of the Underworld in an attempt to save him. She ends up on the rooftop of her parent’s house naked and Mark is a sea monster. But this makes Ellie happy since Mark is finally bigger than she is and stronger too. Really? The boy she loves is a sea monster and this makes her happy? How self-involved can she possibly be? Ellie has self-image problems. In almost every chapter we’re reminded that she is huge, really, really, incredibly huge. She is envious of all the little pretty girls with nice complexions. Her self-loathing is almost non-stop, but then Mark says something negative about himself (prior to becoming a sea monster) and this is what she thinks :”Self-hatred was a big turn-off.” So she can’t accept that he has issues, but she’s full up of her big self with them. Wow, way to be inconsistent and judgmental. She can’t seem to decide whether she’s a bad-ass or not. At different times, she thinks she’s capable of taking care of herself and then she’ll say she’s not any kind of fighter, although she had no problem beating on Mark. Just saying. The magic mask was never explained. I kept waiting to learn about it. Ellie knows it’s ancient and extremely powerful because she can feel it and it loves her. It could make everyone love her. What the heck is this thing? Who knows? Conveniently missing parents. Ellie’s parents are off touring the world after her mother recovered from a serious illness. Why? What did this have to do with anything? Ellie thinks of how much she cares about her mother when Mark’s father dies or when he talks about his mother, but really, why was this in the book? After almost losing her mother and giving up her friends and activities to help out, her parent’s repay her care and sacrifice by sending her off to a boarding school and taking off for a year. Who does this? After almost dying, the first thing her mother thinks is “I think I’ll leave my child whose given up so much for me for a year!!!” I’m mad at these people who don’t even appear in the story. Surely something like they are simply having a weekend away would have covered for why their house is empty so Ellie can use it for the war council. The mythology goes from Maori to Greek to Ellie’s own personal mythology or that’s what I understood, but I could be wrong. The mix of myths made it all a bit confusing. Also, from the first of the book I wondered what the heck this author has against Christchurch, New Zealand. She describes it as dirty, dingy and smelly. I’ve never heard that about it and I’m not from Chch, but I found it kind of an insulting attitude.Perhaps this is common for New Zealanders, much like some Americans make fun of New Jersey or Cleveland? I don't know. There was both too much going on in the book and not enough. So much is still unexplained by the book’s end that I have an odd feeling that this isn’t the last of this story. I won’t read any more of it. One last thing: Why does every YA book now try to re-create the Twilight story? Here we have: Ellie = Bella = unattractive (in her eyes) new girl at new school, doesn't fit in Mark = Edward = mysterious boy with red hair who is hot, hot, hot Kevin = Jacob = big muscular native boy who will only ever be a friend
*Note: I know nothing of Maori mythology, belief or customs so if in my ignorance I've said something offensive about those beliefs, I apologize as that was not my intent. I don't know what is actual belief and what is created by the author. I can't believe this book was nominated for and/or won awards. I really can't.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I didn't really know what I expected when I got this book, not really familiar with any New Zealand myths, so I was pleasantly surprised how good this book really was.
Karen Healey weaves an interesting plot that mixes myths, mythology and mystery that makes Guardian of the Dead a very unique take for this particular paranormal element. The writing draws you in, leading you into the drama but with a leashed pace. The characters were written really well and I connected with all of them right away. I liked there banter and the easy way the story folds around them. At first, I thought this wasn't a book for me, and not till I got through the first 100pgs was I even hooked. But after a certain point, it becomes extremely intriguing. It commands your attention. While the story may confuse some, which in a way it will, just keep in mind that you have to take the time and not rush this book to get the answers you need. I don't want to say to much, as not to give away what this book is really about. So all in all I thought Guardian of the Dead was a gripping, captivating and thrilling book that I loved. It's different, in all the wonderful ways imagination can be. I would love to see more in this world.
Guardian of the Dead gives a new perspective to the usual spiel of boarding schools, the outcast heroine and the hotch potch of supernatural elements. The story is set in New Zealand and the setting closely reflects the story and mythology contained within the pages of the book. It starts strong but somehow in the middle, it starts to lose its hold on the pace and the narrative and never regains it in quite the same way. The mythology is not inserted into the story as seamlessly as possible and while it is fascinating, the frequent breaks in the narrative to explain the local legends gains a lecture/academic quality that detracts from the story as a whole. Ellie Spencer is interesting – refreshing even but she doesn’t have any definitive delineating quality at the end. The relationships are dynamic and the interactions between the characters are well crafted but at the same time I felt a certain distance between them and myself as the reader. I couldn’t connect to them as I would have wanted to. However, when all is said and done, I did like better than some of the other books I have read so far. It took the same story, added a few other elements to it and set it in the rich historical and mythical culture of the Maori that has been little explored so far.
If you enjoy reading about mythology, magic, supernatural beings, and learning about new cultures and folklores of other countries, and in this case New Zealand's, this is your cup of tea. And if you like reading about strong heroines and young adult romance, then you definitely need to grab this book.
The book is about Ellie, a teen attending a boarding school in New Zealand. In her obsession with a mysterious guy in school, Ellie finds herself with potential magical abilities and becomes involved in a war between faeries. Although I found the book a little slow to start due to character and plot development, the action packed into the pages starting in the middle of the book more than made up for it. I have to admit though that the foreign words and concepts slowed me down here and there as I had to look to the Glossary section of the book for explanation. Thank God for the Glossary! Nevertheless, the book was full of humor, interesting tidbits and culture, and heart breaking moments that put tears in my eyes that I'm sure I'll be remembering Ellie and Mark for a very long time.
For a new author, Karen Healy did a wonderful job weaving such a memorable story.
When you have as many TBR books as I do, it's hard to keep track of what came from where. If I had to guess, I'd say I got this book off a list of good LGBTQ young adult, or possibly a friend recced it due to the presence of an asexual character. The book isn't worth it just for that -- nothing is worth it just for checking a diversity box -- but it is worth it.
It's a lively bit of fantasy about a girl at a boarding school who -- you think you can fill in the rest of this one, and you can in broad outline, but not in the specifics. I ended up reading a lot of wikipedia articles on Maori legends to get educated enough to keep up with this one. It's a bit more literal about its magic metaphors than I like my fantasy, but there's this very real, warm heart of friendship and young bravery to this book, and it worked.
It's a debut, and it shows, but I liked it. I liked Healey; this is one of those books where you get to learn a lot about the author just based on what she loves. And I'll read her next book, sure, but I'm really interested in her fifth, her sixth, her tenth. I have a feeling one of those will be a knockout.
Ellie is just getting over the shock of her mother's cancer when she is sent to a boarding school on the south island of New Zealand. There she makes a couple of good friends, excels in her classes (especially Classics), finds herself strangely attracted to a young man, and encounters a woman who seems to have a strang power over her. Ellie's odd misgivings about the woman prove to be true when Ellie learns her true nature.
This is a mystery/adventure novel deeply influenced by Maori legends and folktales. Incorporating the legendary creatures and creation stories of New Zealand's indiginous peoples Healey tells a story of what happens when the spiritual world interacts with the human one. The story unfolds slowly reaching a dramatic war that could mean the end of all life on the islands of New Zealand. With a little romance thrown in, this is an interesting and engaging story.
This was quite a story. The beginning was full of loose ends that left you questioning what was happening and what the characters were hiding, but as the story progressed everything in the mystery was revealed and all the loose ends tied up, leaving you shocked at what the story had become. The beginning leaves you thinking that this is just another teen novel where a girl becomes interested in a mysterious guy, but it was so, so, so incredibly far from that, it left me dumbfounded as I read. Healey did an amazing job of creating this story with an average girl slowly entering a world with a history full of rich mythology and magic. The depth of this book was incredible. It was defiantly strange at times, and very out of the ordinary, but I really liked the fact that it was so out of range from what I usually read. It was interesting, captivating and intriguing. The romance and intricate mystery left me hooked.
Ellie is your average girl attending Mansfield Boarding School in New Zealand, but her normal life suddenly turns in the opposite direction. She went from hanging out with her best friend Kevin, and working on normal homework---to worrying about what exactly Mark Nolan is keeping a secret, and if he has some kind of magical abilities. She ran into him on the street, and ever since that strange encounter she has been noticing strange things. She sees more of Mark, and he warns her not to walk alone at night, which she agrees to, but soon forgets...Mark is doing something to her mind, and she has no idea what he is all about. Things get stranger; Ellie has agreed to help with a play, she meets new people and a new cast member who is simply bad news. When Ellie saw her for the first time, she could have sworn that she saw this woman with no pupils, she is oddly beautiful and seems to be interested in Kevin for the wrong reasons, But he doesn't seem to notice. It's as if he is under her spell, and Ellie has a feeling that Mark knows more about this woman.. The strangeness doesn't end there, an old preacher shoves a bible into her chest saying that she will need it to save her soul, and she sees a mask that tingles under her touch, giving the feeling that it holds some sort of magic. Ellie has so many questions that are needed to be answered and it looks as if Mark is the only one who can, but he says that he cannot speak a word of what she wants to know. The mystery comes together as the truths are revealed, everything comes together and Ellie discovers the reason behind everything--including why people are being murdered and left with their eyes missing...
I had no idea that this book would turn out the way it did, and all I have left to say is Brav-freakin-o to Karen Healey for writing this book, it's her first novel but after finishing this book, it gave me the impression that she's been writing novels her whole life. An overall, great read!
While certainly different from most speculative YA fiction out there, GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD did not give me the connectivity that I always require from an enjoyable reading experience. For me, it was an ambitious debut novel that was successful in the details of YA originality but missed most of the larger essentials of storytelling.
The things I appreciated about this book were mostly, sadly, superficial, at least when it comes to my criteria for liking a book. I appreciated that Ellie did not have the physical features of a typical YA protagonist. She is instead tall, big-boned, and skilled in tae kwon do. The book’s concept is also refreshing, featuring New Zealand mythology instead of more well-known European inspirations.
Beyond these things, however, there was much that frustrated me. The book seemed to rely on an unseeming and awkward chain of events in order to present information and move the plot along. Good stories don’t feel forced: they flow from scene to scene nearly unnoticed, and readers glean information effortlessly. GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD, however, felt to me like a bunch of scenes strung together to give us the painfully slow reveal of the story’s fantastical element. Most of the things in this book just felt very disconnected from one another, like puzzle pieces that look great individually, but do not fit together.
Still, this book has received a lot of praise and even some highly coveted YA lit awards. Perhaps it is my demand for great storytelling over unique concepts that made this book miss its mark with me. Perhaps you will love it. There’s only one way to find out.
I give it 5 stars, because it was original, interesting and FINALLY not about vampires, werewolves, fairies and the lot. Although, the character DID attend a boarding school...yeesh. A main female character who wasn't a 125 lb. smart/cute/AP Class taking, SAT ace, doesn't know she's beautiful, has hot guys vying for her hand....Yeah, I mean you Bella, Nora, Bianca, etc..... If I gave it stars based how how much I liked it, or how I felt after reading the last page...2 stars.
Boarding school is such an overused plot device to get rid of those pesky parents who usually would notice all the hi-jinks and weird things going on. But oh-so-conveniently, they are no where to be found and teens are pretty much free to roam the countryside figuring out the mysterious mystery.
The first half was pretty good, and built up tension and all that...then, (scratching head...), uhm, the author decided to Unleash the New Zealand Kraken of Mythology. Wow...I just couldn't keep up with all the Maori names and words thrown around and just tossed in with no explanation or glossary in the back. What's up with that?
Oh, and Mythology sprinkled in is awesome...I can even forgive an author for slightly changing myth to fit the story, or lend a new look to it.
But to literally use every detail and character in the myth is overwhelming, especially when it is not necessarily a well-known mythology. It just was too much. AND... I still don't really know what Mark turned into at the end.
But I would definitely read something else written by the author.
Ana: Wow. WOW . I could not be more in love with this novel . The writing, the characters, the mythologies, the ideas behind the plotting and characterisation, everything is just as I like and hope whenever I open a book. I knew I was reading something different and unique even, when the heroine beats the shit out of the “hero” so that she can protect her best friend. Superb, just superb and I can hardly believe this is a debut work.
Thea: What Ana said. Seriously, Guardian of the Dead is a fresh, original, unconventional debut novel from a promising new author. The blending of western civ classics and Maori mythology completely won me over – in addition to the solid plotting, evenhanded writing, and truly awesome characters. Heroine Ellie Spencer – decidedly anything BUT another bland vanilla doormat – kicks ass. I loved this book.
On the plot:
Ana: Ellie Spencer is a normal teenager who is attending boarding school as her parents travel the world in celebration of her mother’s recovery from Cancer. She hangs out with her best friend Kevin, she sometimes drinks herself to stupor, dreams about hot guys and wonders about what her future will hold – perhaps studying Classics at university. Then, one day she bumps into Mark Nolan, the mysterious, loner, hawt guy du jour, and unbeknownst to her, he accidentally awakens Ellie’s magic because you see… Mark is not really human. At first, this awakening is muddy because Mark tries to mess with her memory but Ellie struggles to find her footing. Then she realises that Kevin might be in danger after a new girl joins their theatre group. At the same time, a serial killer is on the loose and the crimes might be connected to Mark and the woman, and in turn all may be connected with a plot to destroy New Zealand as creatures from Maori Mythology in search of immortality come to life before Ellie’s eyes.
The plot with its many twists, conflict (internal and external) and supremely interesting world full of creatures out of Maori mythology is incredible and interesting. The author never shies away from consequences that might even include death, heartbreak and mayhem.
But regardless of where the plot goes (and the ending is awesome and bittersweet and so very fitting), the importance of the book lies in the journey to get there. Not only because it features a great story in itself but because the idea is that myths matter as long as there are people who believe in them. The premise is not necessarily new, it reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and how in that book Gods are living beings who are directly as powerful as the faith placed in them. In Guardian of the Dead myths are too, alive and well. There is a great scene in which Ellie looks at the moon and she sees it being inhabited by a Maori legend only to later on, look at it again and see it in a different light as she recalls a different story. It means that stories are evolving according to each person. This idea is expertly handled by the author in one of the most excellent, spellbinding endings ever. It combines not only the Maori mythology prevalent in the story but also Greek Mythology because that is what interests Ellie as well. The combination of both and “how” and the “why” and “which” Greek myth was brought forward caused me a geek-gasm and it made me cry with delight (and a bit of sadness too).
Thea: I have to completely agree with Ana here – from a plotting, writing, and world-building perspective, Guardian of the Dead is pretty damn near flawless. At surface level, the plot feels similar to many other YA supernatural novels on the market right now – young girl meets hot supernatural dude, drama (and Mortal!Peril!) ensues. But this feeling of familiarity is only skin deep, as Guardian of the Dead traverses a unique mythological landscape, and manages to twist this common YA plot premise into something much grittier and substantive.
I have to wholeheartedly agree with what Ana said – Guardian of the Dead did remind me a lot of works like American Gods and even a little Peter Pan (and don’t kill me, but I also couldn’t help thinking of The Skeleton Key – yeaaaah, the horror movie) – belief is a powerful, powerful thing, and I loved the concept that a person can shape and perceive of magic in the world around them based on their own system of beliefs. As it happens, Ellie believes in the Maori creation myth, is a huge Classics buff (with emphasis on Greek mythology), and likes comics – a heady combination, indeed.
I also appreciated Ms. Healey’s storytelling ability with this debut novel as the pacing is excellent, balancing action and character development effortlessly. My only qualm, writing-wise, is a very slight tendency toward the info-dump. For the most part, information is passed to the reader in a believable and palatable manner, but there are occasions that felt a little forced – for example, when Mark is going to explain to Ellie and Iris exactly what is going on, he sits them down and relates the Maori creation myth which, even according to Ellie, every New Zealander has grown up with. Of course, we readers have most likely never heard the myth before, so it’s great and convenient to read – it just doesn’t quite fit and make sense for Mark to be telling this story to two knowledgeable native New Zealanders. Minor, minor stuff like that.
On The characters:
Ana: With regards to the characters: Ellie, Ellie, Ellie. I am in love. She is not the usual YA heroine, starting with the looks: she is fat, plain and pimply and yes, there are moments where she wonders if her appearance is a problem but most of the time she is ok with it. As is everybody else – no one tries to tell her that she is not fat or that she is indeed beautiful, they just accept her as she is and what she is, is awesome. Mark, her romantic interest, never claims that she is beautiful but he likes her for what and who she is and again: awesome. He finds her amazing because she looks good to him, because she is strong and compassionate and because she kicks-ass – even his ass . Yes, she does. So many times YA heroines are bland excuses for girls who disappear in front of a strong male lead – many times even, the aforementioned hero is mysterious and does despicable things and all the heroine will do is swoon and moon over and create excuses for his behaviour (Nora from Hush, Hush I am looking at you)
Not Ellie, she is not only the opposite of the Blank Page Heroine (tm Sarah Rees Brennan) , she also has opinions and loyalties. For example, when she thinks that Mark is keeping things away from her that might be endangering Kevin? She beats him up. I repeat, she beats him up to make him talk. Ok, usually I am a pacifist but the fact that she is willing to go that far to protect those that she loves, even if what she does is against someone she is falling in love with? Amazing and it earns a huge amount of respect from me.
Speaking of respect. The author touches some complicated issues and addresses them with the respect they reserve. Kevin, possibly the hottest guy around is asexual – and that’s who he is. No one tries to make him change his mind, nor does he find out that OMG he is all of a sudden full of sexual drive. He is what he is. Similarly another character tries to get on with Ellie, they kiss and then she changes her mind and says “no” to something more. That character ends up being pushy and nasty and never once does Ellie or any other character try to make a lame excuse for the guy. He is a sleaze ball and that’s it. No means no in this world. Again, I turn back to Hush, Hush as an example: the heroine’s best friend excuses a guy’s aggressive sexual behaviour by saying that he was “only drunk”. NO. NO. That is not right. (But let me move on before I give myself an aneurysm)
Another sign of respect: Ellie might be the protagonist, someone who has a black-belt in Tae Kwon Do and kicks ass and is steadfast and loyal and does a lot of saving. But she is not a flawless character. That is exemplified by her relationship with a magical mask she finds – once she wears the mask everybody obeys and loves her and that is strong temptation, yo. Plus the way she reacts to some things is just…perfect. She sees a monster and she wants to puke.
Seriously, I could not love Ellie more.
Thea: Ellie is the biggest strength of this book (no pun intended) – I loved her from the very start. I loved that Ellie is NOT one of the usual bland pretty (but not gorgeous), slender, everygirl type of heroine. She is by her own admission fat, tall, strong, and not delicate or beautiful in the slightest. BUT she does have a wicked sense of humor, a sharp mind, and she’s incredibly loyal and a great friend. I LOVE that she has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do – and I loved the Ms. Healey has done her homework and doesn’t make Ellie some Chuck Norris style badass. I mean, Ellie IS a badass, but she believably shows restraint in using her skills (unless the situation demands it). And yes, as Ana says above, Ellie is by no means flawless – she faces her own demons in this book, and Ms. Healey handles Ellie and her choices perfectly.
The secondary characters shine less brightly than Ellie, but are still strong and fleshed-out. I loved best friend Kevin and his own unique affliction (asexuality is real, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen it in a character in fiction – certainly the first time I’ve seen it in a YA novel!) – his relationship with Ellie is a wonderful thing. Mark, Ellie’s love interest, is a bit more mundane (in the YA UF sense of the word – in that we’ve seen the tortured, gorgeous, supernatural boy who has his heart set on distancing himself from his heritage), but he’s emotionally connected in such a way that you can’t help but care for the kid. He’s definitely a worthy match for Ellie’s awesomeness, and I loved how their relationship…changes over the course of the book.
Ana: If it is not clear enough, I will spell it for you: I L-O-V-E-D this book. One of the best debuts I have ever read. Guardian of the Dead swept me off my feet and its heroine has become one of my all-time favourites. I LOVED it. I would not be surprised if the book made my top 10 list this year. I highly recommend you to buy it, read it, sing it!
Thea: What Ana said! I loved Guardian of the Dead for its wonderful protagonist, its seamless blending of mythologies, and its expert plotting. Karen Healey is an author to look out for – and I, for one, cannot wait to read what she does next.
Guardian of the Dead is a good book that benefits from having an excellent narrator and audiobook. The story itself has a lot going for it--mythology, New Zealand, a smart doesn't-take-shit from anyone heroine. But at times, the writing drags the story down. It liked to use clever turns of phrases like "I ate till my stomach touched my jeans" which FYI doesn't make sense, and overused adverbs in dialogue tags. Clumsily writing that detracts from an interesting tale.
Fortunately the story itself is good. Eleanor Spencer is the new kid at boarding school. She's in her last year before university, so she struggles to fit in with the already tight-knit group of students who have lived together for years. But she manages to survive, snaring attractive Kevin as a best friend by being the only girl who doesn't throw herself at him, and living the life of sneaking out, drinking in the dorm and normal boarding school shenanigans.
A serial-killer who takes his victims eyes has the whole island on edge. Ellie accidentally stumbles into the supernatural world, learning that myths aren't quite as mythical as she thought and finding herself fighting to save her best friend from creatures that he doesn't even know exist. Maori mythology, something I know nothing about, makes this novel stand out from the rest of the paranormal offerings. I cannot comment on the accuracy, but I like that the author avoided the typical mythological beings used in fantasy novels and introduced me to a new and equally terrifying world.
Another thing that helps this novel is Ellie herself. She's not your typical waif of a heroine, but a large, muscular, judo fighting smartass. The author seems acutely aware of the non-positive male/female dynamics of most paranormals, and tries to make Ellie the opposite of Bella. At times it's heavy handed. There's a lot of talk about no meaning no and consent, but it's nice to have a heroine who's aware that she shouldn't let boys push her around.
I don't really have much to say for the romantic elements of this book. There were times I liked that subplot and times when it seems unnecessary. However it's fine most of the time.
Narration I listened to the audiobook which is very well narrated. The New Zealand accent is simply fantastic to listen to. I've seen a few mixed reviews of this book and I noticed some flaws myself, but if you have the chance to listen to this story I highly recommend it on audio.
For reviews and more be sure to check out my blog. I recently did a post on Audiobooks 101 that might interest some people.
[It’s a New Zealand based mythological YA Fiction book]…
Whoa! Now where’s that came from? Incredibly unique tale with so stunning writing…
Reka! That unknown girl or say that unknown creature. She was not human of course but that’s not what surprised me at first side! What crept the hell out of my mind was on that forest at night surrounded by mist was totally exciting to read. The power about her that brought numbers of Gecko on that very time in the purpose to attack Eleanor Spencer! Well it was not I really hoping for and it indeed gave me those creepy feelings inside me…
Eleanor Spencer! Lead female character – brave – strong minded – fearless, okay not totally fearless but she’s a fighter. That’s what I find out about her on that book. Of course I liked her, the way the author guided her toward those difficult situations was so mesmerizing that me too wanted to be with her...
Mark Nolan! Right! Here’s come the real twist. The complicated moment between Eleanor and him was really fun to read. I liked about Eleanor’s honest statement about she liked him but Mark in a way lied her in his regression. Mark didn’t wanted to do it to her and it was true. I loved that. But Mark indeed ask for forgiveness right? And then too Eleanor couldn’t resist him. So fair enough...
That Mask! AHA! I forgot to mention that Mask! Another twist! I just love the concept that described about it. About it’s own power and that the Mask only love Eleanor but no other else, it tried to ensure her safety – well what to say it was really interesting to read it relating with a mythological tie…
Last Word! There’s that others character too. Blake, Iris, Kevin and so on. I wish specially about Reka that she could be there when Mark Nolan died while fighting with those inhuman creatures to protect Eleanor. Hey! Do I mention Mark died? Well don’t count on it if you think I releases the main twist of this book because it’s actually not, there’s lot of things happen after that incident that you will definitely gonna love. Anyway I was so shocked on that time when I read the dead about Mark Nolan’s father - Robert!...
In the end It was all about Eleanor Spencer and Mark Nolan that I really wanted to read and yes it was there, the way I wanted it to be –
Guardian of the Dead is not like anything you've ever read. Yes, it's a dark fantasy novel in a contemporary setting with teenage protagonists, and those books are overpopulating the world at present, but there's not a whiff of European monsters in here. The mythology she uses is Māori and incredibly well researched (complete with an afterword and a glossary at the end of the book). The heroine is uncomfortably overweight, and remains so even after the end of the novel. Nobody "fixes" it, either by magic or by instilling self-confidence in her from an outside source. Ellie's best friend Kevin is asexual and just coming out to his closest friends in the beginning of the book, and it's never treated as a quirk or a gimmick. The whole thing is set in New Zealand, where Healey herself hails from.
The characters and relationships here are so diverse and complex, they're wonderfully realistic and clearly one of Healey's strengths. I would have been happy just to read a novel about the interactions between Ellie, Kevin, his friend Iris (for whom Ellie and her inferiority complex hold a jealous resentment) and Ellie's crush Mark. That is, actually, a large part of the first half of the book, combined with the slow mystery of what exactly Mark is hiding and the minor supernatural aspects just beginning to poke out.
In the second part, the supernatural aspects start to get bigger and we shift from the story of a girl in school dealing with normal things like friends and teenage emotions to a more epic "save the world" kind of plotline. The mythology Healey's drawn from is fresh and full of vivid imagery and the stakes are personal enough to reasonably motivate a scared teen, but in spite of the continuation of seemingly discarded plotlines or expanding on the occasional throwaway line from much earlier in the book, I felt like I was reading an entirely different story. It may have been simply because everything changed so much in scope, or it may have been because Ellie is no longer surrounded by the fascinating cast of secondary characters, but the second part of the book just didn't grab me and speak to me the way the first part did.
That being said, this is still very much a book worth looking at, even if it's only to meet the wonderful characters. It is, in fact, going on my shelf so I can re-read it later, because while I enjoyed some parts more than others, even my least favourite parts were well written and full of real emotion.
I was so incredibly, pleasantly surprised by this book. I needed one more book for a 2016 challenge, that was set in NZ. I wasn't enjoying my original pick, and was ready to throw in the towel on the challenge on the 29 Dec. However, Lexx thought that was stupid, and found rec for this book. Māori mythology? Sign me up! And our library who I have never been able to find anything before on their online systems had it available. It was so easy, so I of course prepared myself for a terrible YA book.
And... it didn't happen. It was actually one of the better YA books I've read. Unlike other YA, and other around the world YA I've read, it was one of the strongest, female, teenage protagonists I have read in awhile. Did she have an attitude I wanted to smack her for now and then? Of course. Did she have a boy she liked? Yup, but she wasn't simpering. Was there a bit too much of a teenage build up before the fantasy kicks into play? Yes, but you need a world and a story before you can challenge it. Again, I was surprised I wanted to devour the book in a day in a half.
Ellie is a 17 year old girl in boarding school in Christchurch. Her best friend has dragged her into helping with a Shakespeare production while dealing with his own sexuality issues, and they meet some interesting characters at Uni of Canterbury beside the usual drama nerds. Add that to the boy at their school who also seems to have some weird magical things going on around him. Soon you have Ellie, Kevin and Mark's world colliding with the Māori mythologies and stories, with a lot more occurring in the world around them then you and I can see. And she's studying Classics at school too, so there is so much in this book I love. Debates about Homer, A Midsummer Night's Dream, myths and legends. Rusalka crack.
The author also ends the book acknowledging that the stories and myths have been changed and simplified somewhat. That these stories in this book were being relayed to us from the perspective of a 17 year old Pākehā (non-Māori). But she then gives a comprehensive reading list for those who want to know more. More about the myths, and more about YA fiction with a Māori bent to it. I love that.
Now, my gushing aside. It is still a YA book. Some resolutions are too simplistic. The romance is fast and unbelieveable and slightly unnecessary. The build up was a bit too long. But. For a book I had no expectations for, mind blown. I need to read more with no expectations.
I love stories about stories, especially ones that explore what stories mean to us and why they’re important. Greek legends, Shakespeare, Māori creation myths and superhero comics all get a look-in in Guardian of the Dead, and they twist and combine in strange ways that reflect the way Ellie experiences them – contradictory but complementary, opposite truths that blend together rather than diminishing each other.
Māori legends form the basis for much of the (twisty and exciting) plot, and I came away wanting to know more about Hine-nui-te-pō, Māui and Tūmatauenga – but with the clear understanding that, like Ellie, I am an outsider. As closely involved as Ellie becomes with events, she never owns these stories, and the ones that continue to mean the most to her are the Greek myths of her childhood.
Guardian of the Dead isn’t just diverse in terms of the storytelling traditions it draws on – the cast of characters is varied, and the author handles it with a light touch – the characters are white, Māori, black, Chinese, Muslim, Christian, asexual, fat – and it matters, but it isn’t everything, and it doesn’t always mean what you expect.
This is one of the ways in which the book deals with unspoken cultural narratives as well as consciously-defined stories – a fat character can be a black belt, and there doesn’t have to be anything strange about that. A girl can observe hijab and be fun and be academic. When Ellie escapes an attempted sexual assault only to be harassed and followed by men in a car, her best friend Kevin explicitly denies the dominant paradigm – she didn’t ask for it, there wasn’t anything she should have done differently.
And that for me was the message that came through the strongest in Guardian of the Dead – stories have power. They can shape the way we view the world, for good or for ill. But we also have power over stories – if we know them, we can use them and change them and make them work for us.
When I first heard about this book it sounded so interesting that I added it on my list right away. However, the synopsis I read a before failed to mention one thing that the synopsis on the book mentioned: fairies. I am not a big fan of faeries and am very picky when choosing fairy based books but I still decided to give Guardian of the Dead a try. Sadly I was dissapointed.
At first it sounded pretty interesting, even though I kept getting distracted and not wanting to read, but I tried to focus and found it okay. But then it started to get confusing. Something about Maori was mentioned and some other foreign words that weren't explained. So basically the whole time I was like 'Whaaaaat?'. I could of went online and researched but I wasn't interested in doing that. The other thing I didn't like was how in the first half of the book I barely got any answers. I hate it when books are like that, only to reveal answers at the end. I actually stopped reading half-way and skimmed the rest to find out what happens but eventually gave up.
The one thing I liked about this book was that it was different from other boarding school books. Most of these types of books start out with the character arriving, making friends, trying to fit and all that which I find boring because I just want to get to the story. In this book however Ellie has already gone through that. I also like how it was not set in America but New Zealand because I find paranormal books in other countries really interesting. Plus I like imagining the accents.
If there wasn't so much confusion than I would have liked this book. But I guess it's just not for me.
Review: I really wanted to like this book, but I was really just confused the whole time. I must say that Ellie, the protagonist, was very believable and really likable. She seemed like a real person. Other than that though, I didn't really understand what was happening in the story. It probably is because I'm an ignorant American and the author and characters are from New Zealand, including the lingo and story-telling style. The characters are all based on Maori legends, which is part of New Zealand Mythology. Not knowing any of the stories or who the Maori are, limited my understanding of the book. Even the "Fae" are not like western civilization's idea's of the Fae. So, with that said, if I understood anything about New Zealand culture I'm hoping I would've enjoyed the book more. But since I didn't get it at all, I almost stopped reading it even, I have to only give it a 1.5/5 stars. Sorry. If anyone disagrees, and I'm sure they will, sorry, I tried to understand it, but I just didn't get it.
The first 150 or so pages of the book don’t really hint at it, but this turns into a pretty cool story.
The book begins with Ellie’s mundane school days in New Zealand. Her best and only friend is Kevin and it’s soon established that there’s zero romantic interest. Hallelujah! There’re some boringly repetitive references to her negative body image (which is later amusing when Ellie proclaims that self-hate is a real turn off)—but I appreciate that she’s described realistically. This first half sets up potentially interesting characters and settings, but it drags.
Enter Polynesian mythology. The story picks up pace when Eliie starts to learn more about strange occurrences and it begins to alter her perceptions. I do wish that the characters were developed beyond their roles in the story and that more time was spent on the hurried unraveling of myths. But all in all, an interesting read.
The story is steeped in New Zealand myth and explores how the stories and myths we believe shape our lives and world.
After a horrible battle with cancer her mother survives and Ellie's parents celebrate with a long worldwide trip. (Interesting twist, eh? The parents are not killed off, they live! and go on a glorious trip- I like it)
Ellie, on the other hand, celebrates by going to a boarding school on the Southern Island of New Zealand, there she is best friends with Kevin (the georgeousest boy in the school) who talks her into coaching some scenes for The Midsummer Night's Dream at a nearby college. Kevin is the lead to a compelling Tatiana. Suddenly Mark a mysterious and fascinating boy is very present. With the backdrop of a magical play, Maori myth comes to life as Ellie and Mark are swept into a grand and perilous adventure.
This edition of the book suffers from a terrible case of cover fail - it's completely unappealing and does nothing to invite its intended audience (or ANY audience) to read it. I put off opening it for many months simply because it looked terrible. The font, the art and the design do nothing to make the book appeal, and that's a major disappointment, because it's a great story inside that terrible cover. Utilising local mythology, Healey writes engaging and interesting characters into an exciting adventure that held me from beginning to end. I will do my best to encourage young adult and adult readers alike to open it, but I really wish the publishers had done a better job with the packaging.
A fresh and exciting young adult fantasy novel. It's like Healey took all the things I'd been yearning for and rolled them together in one great book. Teenage girl protagonist who's both believable and completely awesome? Check. Several supporting characters who are just as awesome as she is, including perhaps my favorite depiction of an ultrafeminine girl since Cordelia Chase? Check. A nuanced exploration of a multicultural society (in this case, New Zealand)? Check. A deliciously creepy and original fantasy plot? Check. I only wish all YA fantasy could be this compelling.
This book is a love letter to New Zealand, and I enjoyed it so much.
You'd think I'd be biased, being a New Zealander and all, but it should actually be the opposite. New Zealand books have a bad rep with New Zealand YA readers, because we're pretty used to all of them being complete shite, to put it lightly. The publishing industry here is eh at best, so when we wander over to the "NZ AUTHORS" shelf in the library, most of them are written by old white guys featuring a bland white boy and his dog, while both misusing Maori terms and overusing Maori terms to get the "New Zealand" vibe.
This book was leagues above the usual. In the first chapter, we've got racial diversity, different sexualities, aND our protagonist is overweight with acne prone skin. (Can I hear a #relatable?) The plot was gripping while weaving in Maori myths, the characters bounced well off of each other, especially the eventual dynamic between Ellie and Iris, and race relations were pointed out without being preachy.
I think my only problem with it being 4 star and not 5 star was that the ending became confusing, where I wasn't quite sure what needed to be done to reach a finale. There was a point where I was simply just lost, before the resolution came and yay everything is back to normal! That being said, I'm a bit of a skim reader when it comes to character-heavy chapters where I can tell not much is about to happen, so it could be my own fault as well.
All in all, I'd definitely recommend this book above others sitting on the "NZ authors" shelf in my local library.
Really good for YA ! Not too focused on the romance, and good mythology ! I felt it was respectful towards New Zealand and its inhabitants - though it's just a feeling, I don't know enough about that topic to be sure.
Honesty this book wasn't my favorite, but the writing was decent, and it was an easy read. I did enjoy learning about Maori mythology and the patupairehe, which I was unfamiliar with. The main character, Ellie, was fine but was nothing exceptional. The other characters were also so-so. The plot didn't capture my attention, but as I said before, the writing was good enough to make it easy to continue. Overall, there was nothing that stood out to me in this book except for some new mythological lore. I am glad that this isn't a series because I wouldn't really want to read more.