YA book reviews, reading and recommending since 2009

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Publisher: Little Brown
Publication Date: April 1st 2010
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Gold star (4/5 stars)

Synopsis: 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 paper deadline. Then everything changes: In the foggy woods near the school, something ancient and deadly is waiting.

Debut author Karen Healey introduces a savvy and spirited heroine with a strong, fresh voice. Full of deliciously creepy details, this unique, incredible adventure is a deftly crafted story of Māori mythology, romance, betrayal, and war.

Review: First off I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed Guardian of the Dead, although I was hesitant to start it as I was afraid it’d disappoint me. It has definitely left a strong impression on me. It is an incredible book not only in terms of world building but also characterisation. Full of vibrant characters, Healey’s powerful writing and the unique elements will cause this novel to stand out among the YA novels out there. Healey goes against the norm by writing about Māori mythology, having an Asian friend, having the protagonist be involved in a play, set the story in New Zealand… the list goes on!

Ellie was an excellent narrator with a strong unique voice. Sharp and sassy, she’s like the best friend you never had. Of course, she’s a flawed character. When we’re first introduced to her, she was waking up from a handover, with a boy in her room! Yes, with that kind of beginning, it’s bound to stay in your head for a long long time. Did I also mention that she’s also fat? Finally, a character who accepts their weight. Also, Ellie’s weight problem was mentioned only once in the book and throughout the entire novel, I pretty much forgot Ellie was not one of those skinny characters. In fact, the Ellie I pictured was pretty. I simply adored the characters, Kevin, Iris and Mark (!!!). All of them were endearing, charming and fun to read about.

The mythology was handled very well and Healey explained it very clearly so even me, who had no knowledge about Māori mythology prior to this book could understand it. The story was well-paced and there was a built up to the final climax. The climax was pulse-pounding, utterly engrossing and left me speechless. Healey threw in a twist at the end which I did not see coming and believe me, it left me with a stunned expression on my face. Let’s just say, you’ll never see it coming. Healey is an author who is not afraid to do evil things to her characters. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

However, there is something about Guardian of the Dead that made me not want to rate it 5/5. Perhaps I was annoyed by how a certain someone betrayed Ellie. Other than that, superb writing, finely tuned plot, unique setting, I’m satisfied!

Guardian of the Dead left me enraged, smittened, and dying for the sequel. (If you’ve read the book, email Ms. Healey and let her know YOU want the sequel. And buy her book so that the publisher will know YOU want the sequel! 😉 I love her book too much.) I shall leave you with three words: BUY IT NOW. 🙂

Review copy provided by publisher.
Visit Karen Healey’s website and follow her on Twitter (@kehealey)!

What authors are saying:
“Smart, hilarious, and wholly unique. Healey makes juxtaposing totally modern characters with numinous and ancient magic look effortless.– Holly Black (the Modern Faerie series, The Spiderwick Chronicles)

“It’s been a long time since a debut novel grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. Quite simply, GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD is my favorite kind of read—creepy, funny, sexy, smart, and sometimes just downright, pull-the-covers-up-to-your-neck-and-pray-for-morning frightening. This book completely rocked my socks.” – Libba Bray (A Great And Terrible Beauty)

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