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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Guardian of the Dead" by Karen Healey (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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Introduction: Karen Healey is a New Zealand native and uses her background and culture that she's grown up with in her debut YA novel, Guardian of the Dead.

Overview: Ellie Spencer is an ordinary 17 year old girl who attends Mansfield, a boarding school in New Zealand. She is a bit awkward is social situations, has a handful of friends, and knows tae kwon do. After agreeing to help out a friend with her play Ellie begins to notice some strange things happening. First, a mass murder has been on the lose in New Zealand. It is rumored that he kills his victims and removes their eyes. Second, a very mysterious lady takes over the lead of the play, this lady is allergic to the smell of cooked food. Ellie's had one encounter with this mysterious red head before, and it appeared as though this lady had no eyes, but no one would believe Ellie's story even if she told someone.

A beautiful white mask calls out to Ellie, and strange things begin to start happening to her. She begins to get massive headaches after a chance encounter with the mysterious boy, Mark. Little does Ellie know that a secret magic has been awoken within her and soon she and Mark will be called upon to stop an ancient race from causing a massive disaster that could kill millions of people.

Format: Guardian of the Dead is a YA paranormal romance, with a bit of Maori mythology mixed into the story. This is a bit of an upper YA book as there is swearing, and some of the mythology stories while not graphic due have some sexual undertones. It is told from the first person point of view of Ellie. It stands at 333 pages and scheduled for release by Little Brown and Company, April 1, 2010.

Analysis: I don't read a lot of paranormal romance of any kind due to the simple fact that it all seems to be the same. Girl has latent powers, the powers mysteriously appear out of nowhere, handsome guy comes and guides her through all the tough spots, she saves the world from some major attack, The end. Lately, the use of vampires has been so overused in paranormal romance that it just seems the same template with name changes and a few different things. When I was presented with Guardian of the Dead, the use of Maori mythology in the story inspired me to give it a try.

There are parts of the book that stand out as exceptional such as the mythology and other parts that aren't so exceptional.

The part of the book that stands out the most is the use of mythology. The idea to use Maori mythology is both unique and a bit fascinating. Unless you've studied mythology or the like, it'd be virtually unknown about the legends and the stories told. Seeing as this book caters to the teen audience I think it could inspire many to look into an area of mythology that is unheard of.

With that the mythology does serve as a bit of a push pull. While it is unique due to the lack of knowledge on the topic a lot of time is spent "educating" readers on the mythology and stories and can be a bit dry and overwhelming. Coming from a lack of knowledge of the mythology I found it a bit confusing to keep the names and stories straight and therefor there were a few sections that I had to flip back to the explanation. However the unique use of this mythology did keep me reading the book to the end.

The main character of the book, Ellie Spencer, is the typical smart alicky, sassy at times girl that is popular in YA paranormal romance. The difference with this book is that the sassiness doesn't seem to be overused, and the comments that Ellie does throw out did result in a couple laughs here and there. Fans of paranormal romance will enjoy Ellie, and those that aren't can enjoy that she is a fairly strong independent character that can definitely stand on her own two feet.

The biggest downfall of this book was the length of time that it took before anything really happened. It was more then halfway through the book before the magic, powers and dire situation started to evolve. It'd take a lot of dedication to get to that point and many readers might give up before anything really happens. There is a lot of focus on Ellie, and her part in a play production. There wasn't really any mystery or suspense that really made me want to continue the book. However once the magic evolved and readers begin to learn more about the big plan of the mysterious race the book does pick up.

Although there is a mention of an "epic battle" on the back of the book. The battle does occur but it's more set in the background and readers are taken on a side trip and returned at the end of the book. This is definitely more of a paranormal romance then anything else.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with this book. After the somewhat slow start of the book, it really did grab my attention. There was a little bit of everything in here from humor, romance, betrayal, and mystery. The unique use of a mythology that isn't used a lot in novels is nicely done and a great change of pace from other paranormal romances. A great debut for Karen Healey.


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