Ellie leads a typical life for a 17 year old. She goes to class, hangs out with her best friend Kevin, and wonders about Mark, her mysterious (and good looking) classmate. She has a black belt in tae kwon do, and after a night of ill-advised drinking with Kevin, has also volunteered her time to staging fight scenes for a play at the local university. Even if the play is being directed by Kevin’s oldest friend Iris, who is annoyingly perfect and makes Ellie feel like an ugly, ungainly giant.
After that, things start to get less typical.
The news keeps reporting on a serial killer, and after a literal run-in with, Mark Ellie is starting to see things. One of the actresses at the play seems to have an unhealthy interest in Kevin.
In Guardian of the Dead (2010) by Karen Healey, the more Ellie learns, the more it seems like Mark might be at the center of all of the strange happenings around her. And stranger still, Ellie herself might have a role to play before it’s all over.
Guardian of the Dead was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Cybils Awards, an annual award from book bloggers honoring children's and young adult books. I had the honor of being a part of the Cybils Awards this year and was on the science fiction and fantasy panel for young adults. Although Guardian of the Dead did not win the top spot, the book holds a special place in my heart as a personal favorite from 2010. This book is also set in New Zealand. As such, if you are not familiar with New Zealand school structure, the beginning might be confusing, but don’t worry, it all resolves itself quickly.
Without giving too much away, the incorporation of stories and mythology — most notably traditional Maori myths — adds another dimension to the plot, particularly the notion that stories shape us all. Much like traditional myths, nothing is quite as it seems in Guardian of the Dead, and more often than not, nothing works out quite as one would expect it too. Consequently, the plot is rich and filled with twists and turns to keep even the most astute readers guessing.
It’s weird to say this about a fantasy, but Guardian of the Dead is extremely authentic when it comes to the characters and how they interact with each other. All of the characters, even the minor ones and the creepy ones, feel strikingly complex and well-developed in a very natural way. It all seems so real even as all of these improbable things start to happen to Ellie. Healey is really one of those writers that makes her craft seem effortless.
Ellie herself is also a joy. She is proactive, desirable, and powerful throughout the story. She is simeltaneously tall, ungainly, athletic, and chubby, though her weight is never dwelled upon or considered a negative aspect of her character.
Filled with mythology, action, wit, and even some romance, Guardian of the Dead is a charmer that will not only leave you thinking, it will leave you with a smile on your face.
Possible pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, and The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver.