Girl goes to boarding school where she meets a cute boy who has mysterious powers. Wait, I know what you’re thinking. I was thinking it too, but GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD is not a cookie-cutter YA novel.
Let’s start with what I liked about this novel. First of all, Ellie Spencer, the protagonist, is a fully-fledged character. She has a back story, she has issues, and she has strengths. I really liked that she studied Tae-kwon-do, because it makes me happy when heroines are good at butt-kicking because of long-practice at the dojo and not because butt-kicking came standard with the title of “action heroine.” I like that she’s self-conscious of her height, but that she learns to appreciate her traits by the end of the book. These are good traits for a heroine.
The novel takes place in New Zealand, a country I know very little about, and it deals with Maori legends and myths. I’ve seen this done with other cultures, in other novels, and sometimes it has a crammed-down-the-throat feeling, but here it felt as if the Maori origin myths were the truth of the world, and that they were just explaining the facts to us. The only hiccup were the pariapatuhe (misspelled, I know) which felt more similar to European/English, Midsummer’s Night-type faeries, than I wanted. The fact that they have an allergy to cooked food helped, but the red hair and green eyes made me think of the British Isles.
The only thing I disliked about this novel was that it got too dark, too fast. At one point, when Ellie is talking about how hard it is, she doesn’t think she can save the world, etc., I found myself thinking “Yeah, this is going to end with your gruesome and pointless death” and I wanted to stop reading so that I didn’t have to witness it. There was definitely a chunk in the middle/end that went much slower and almost stopped me. But then Ellie had some success and things started to look like they’d work out after all, and I kept reading.
By all rights, GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD should have thrilled me a lot more than it did. I did enjoy it, but it’s not going to be on my list of favorites. This is a solidly written novel, creative, and action packed, with a likeable heroine and a worthy cause in an interesting setting. Sorry, book, it’s not you, it’s me. I do think there’s someone out there who will adore you though. Lots and lots of them, especially young people.