Friday, 3 December 2010

Review: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Debut Novel - will there be a series?
Genre: Paranormal/Thriller
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher:Allen and Unwin (AUS) 
Release Date:April 2010
Format: Paperback, 360 pages
ISBN-13:  9781741758801
RRP: $19.99 AUD
Thank you to Allen and Unwin, who provided this review copy for an honest review.
Cover love? 
On first glance, the cover seems plain, normal. But if you look closely, you can see a detailed forest on the girl's back. That is some awesome photo manipulation! The text colour is exactly the girl's hair colour, and the typeface reflects the Maori nature of the book.
'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.'
At her boarding school in New Zealand, Ellie Spencer is like any ordinary teen: she hangs out with her best friend, Kevin; obsesses over her crush on a mysterious boy; and her biggest worry is her essay deadline. Until everything changes...
In the foggy woods near the school, something ancient and deadly is waiting.
A gripping fantasy set on the shifting boundary between what is real and what is legend. Can Ellie discover a power she never knew she possessed?


To be completely honest, this is a book that I would not normally pick up. I'm a bit squeamish when it comes to books with "Dead" in their title, and I tend to avoid horror novels. I've also never read any books set in New Zealand. But boy, was I blown away by the originality and depth in this book.

Eleanor (Ellie) Spencer doesn't really fit in at her New Zealand boarding school. She's rather tall, a black belt in tae kwon doe, and her only friend is Kevin, who all girls seem to like. Ellie discovers that there's more than meets the eye with her crush, the mysterious Mark Nolan, and he reveals to her a power and an alternate world that she never knew existed, but has always coexisted with her society.

Guardian of the Dead is brilliantly original. It's set in New Zealand, and central to the plotline is the ancestral Maori legends, including the fabled patupaiarehe. She also weaves several separate storylines (including a crime plotline that involves a series of murders by Eyeslasher), that managers to come together brilliantly at the end. Ellie Spencer is a strong heroine who does things on her own terms and can defend herself perfectly well, certainly a unique protagonist that stands out from the slew of cliched young adult main characters. The book also delicately explores an issue that I've never read before - themes of teenage asexuality - in Ellie's best friend Kevin.
Then there's the complicated family history that ties Mark and Kevin to the patupaiarehe legends. It completely unexpected, but it fit well with the story. Be warned, the family ties make for a very creepy part of the plotline though. In general, however, the plotline is fast-paced, thrilling and immensely captivating. Karen Healy's masterful writing complements this well, with an authentic voice that carried the many plot elements and created an intense story. The book is a paranormal thriller, and some points were downright frightening. Combined with the fact that I'm not a quick reader, you can imagine my shock when I discovered myself halfway through the book two hoursafter picking it up.

In the beginning of the novel, I couldn't relate to Ellie very well. In part, this was because I'm very different to her, but also, I felt that I didn't learn enough about Ellie's background to identify with her as a character. The romance between Mark and Ellie clearly defines this as a young adult novel, with its genuine emotions and rare (compared to other young adult novels), but incredibly sweet moments.

By the end, I was completely blown away. I've said this a couple of times, but I must reiterate. I've never read anything as authentic, gripping and intelligent as Guardian of the Dead. If you want to learn more about New Zealand culture while enjoying a paranormal thriller, read this book.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Guardian of the Dead at Allen & Unwin

NB. I'm wondering if there will be a sequel, as the book certainly left space for one, and I would certainly read it.