Title: Guardian of the Dead
Author: Karen Healey
ISBN: 9780316044301
Pages: 345 pages
Publisher/Date: Little Brown and Company, c2010.
Publication Date: April 1, 2010

I walked into the bathroom, uncertain of why my cheeks were flushed, and unable to remember how I’d gotten there. I had the dimming notion of an odd conversation, but not of whom I’d spoken to or what had been said. When I tried to mentally retrace my steps, my scalp suddenly stung as if I’d been yanking out fistfuls of hair. The pain swallowed whatever had jolted my memory, and I splashed water onto my face and frowned in the mirror until the color in my cheeks faded.
“You,” I said softly, “are never drinking again.” (17)

It’s not the illegal alcohol that her long-time-friend Kevin smuggled into her dorm room that is causing Ellie Spencer splitting migrane-like pain. Instead the cause is gorgeous classmate Mark, who has unconsciously awakened Ellie’s dormant senses of the magical world of Maori myths. Not fully understanding what has happened, Ellie finds herself relying on her rusty tae kwon do skills more than her magic to fend off an evil fairy’s interest in Kevin. But even if they are successful, it turns out there are bigger problems. The recent rash of murders in the country seems tied to a bigger magical occurrance to shift the course of power, a fight in which Ellie is set to become involved.

I want to touch upon a fairly minor detail to the plot that makes itself known in the first couple chapters. Kevin, Ellie’s long-time friend, is ASEXUAL and confides in Ellie first during their binge drinking night, and then clarifies once they have sobered up the following morning at school. Kevin works with Iris on a play, and recognizes that she has an interest in him that he just doesn’t return and is worrying about sharing this fact with Iris.

I tried to smile, but the humor in my voice was too forced. “Come on, it can’t be that hard. You just say, ‘Hi. My name is Kevin. And I’m asexual.”
Kevin stared at his big hands. “Great. You think it’s like alcoholism.”
“No!” I said, and tried to think of something not stupid to say. Nothing came to mind.
There was a pause while Kevin picked at his cuticles and I scraped my teeth down the apple. “Now that we’re sober, just to clarify,” I said at last, and let my voice trail off when my courage gave out. I couldn’t stop myself from picking at scabs, either.
“I’m not gay.”
“Okay,” I mumbled.
Kevin’s lips twisted. “People understand gay. Even if they think it’s sick. But asexual…they don’t understand someone who’s not interested in sex at all.”
“Really not at all?”
He flattened his hands on his thighs. “Really.”
I thought about saying Maybe you’ll change your mind, and then remembered Dad saying exactly that to Magda when she came out, and my sister’s strained, white face as she fought back equal measures of fury and despair.
“Okay,” I said instead, and covered one of his hands with mine. A smile appeared at the corners of his mouth and rested there a while. (13-14)

I wanted to stand up an applaud Karen Healey. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. In this trend of love triangles, she is courageous enough to go against the curve and have a character with absolutely no interest in having a romantic relationship with another character. He’s not obsessed with butt, boobs, or boners, and is enjoying the friendships he has without the complications of sex. YES! YES! YES! And to compare it to being gay was a wonderful move, because she’s right that it would be a common assumption or stereotype. Oh, it’s just because you haven’t met the right person yet. You’ll be attracted to someone eventually, or it’ll be fixed with a little blue pill. No, not always the case.

Ok, enought about Kevin, who is really a pawn in the events that transpire. I thought it was a great stroke that Healey gave readers an inside scoop into what was going on, making them privy to the conversations that Ellie has so much difficulty remembering. We know something is up with Mark, and you keep urging and encouraging Ellie to remember what it is because he’s cast as the suspicious character so early in the game.

The second half of the book escalates quite quickly, but there is so much drawn out intrigue in the first half that you’re almost prepared for the climax. But not quite. Healey sends a curve ball, drawing not just from the Maoi myths that makes up most of the book, but turning the Beauty and the Beast story on it’s head and forcing me to view it in a new light. One can only imagine if that’s really how Beauty and the Beast ended up.

The epilogue might be disappointing for some readers and a welcome surprise for other, depending on how you viewed Ellie’s relationship with one of the characters. I was surprised at the way things turned out, but it’s not completely unsatisfactory. I don’t want to ruin it by saying any more, but you’ll understand what I mean when you get there. Overall, a good debut novel.

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