Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey

Tags: YA, magical realism, New Zealand


Ellie’s life seems to be going as normally as possible, until an intimidating and odd older woman begins to seduce her asexual best friend Kevin. That, plus an increasing number of unexpected encounters with Mark, an enigmatic and handsome day student, opens Ellie up to the frightening world of Maori folklore. An ambitious group of Maori faeries are conspiring for their chance at immortality, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of human lives, and Ellie, Mark, and their friends must use what little they’ve learned about the creatures to stop them before all of New Zealand is destroyed forever.


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.

Similar Authors
Anastasia Hopcus (Shadow Hills)
Kimberly Derting (The Body Finder)

Writing: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Plot: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

Cover discussion: 3 out of 5 - Very creepy, and thus very appropriate for this book.

Little, Brown / April 1, 2010 / Hardcover / 345pp. / $17.99

Personal copy; read for Cybils.


  1. Very objective review. I love it. I will still have to read it though.

  2. thanks for the review! i'm always more interested in a less-than-perfect review of popular reads than another car on the glowing review train.

  3. Fantastic review! I am so jealous of your blog writing style. But what can I say, I'm just a kiss up.

    I've seen a lot about this book. Unless it falls into my lap, I doubt I'll read it.


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