Guardian of the Dead

( 24 )

Overview

This is an intriguing YA urban fantasy in the tradition of Holly Black and Wicked Lovely. Set in New Zealand, Ellie's main concerns at her boarding school are hanging out with her best friend Kevin, her crush on the mysterious Mark, and her paper deadline. That is, until a mysterious older woman seems to set her sights on Kevin, who is Maori, and has more than just romantic plans for him. In an effort to save him, Ellie is thrown into the world of Maori lore, and eventually finds herself in an all-out war with ...

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Guardian of the Dead

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Overview

This is an intriguing YA urban fantasy in the tradition of Holly Black and Wicked Lovely. Set in New Zealand, Ellie's main concerns at her boarding school are hanging out with her best friend Kevin, her crush on the mysterious Mark, and her paper deadline. That is, until a mysterious older woman seems to set her sights on Kevin, who is Maori, and has more than just romantic plans for him. In an effort to save him, Ellie is thrown into the world of Maori lore, and eventually finds herself in an all-out war with mist dwelling Maori fairy people called the patupaiarehe who need human lives to gain immortality.

The strong, fresh voice of the narrator will pull readers in, along with all the deliciously scary details: the serial killer who removes victim's eyes; the mysterious crazy bum who forces a Bible on Ellie telling her she needs it; handsome, mysterious Mark who steals the Bible from her and then casts a forgetting charm on her. All of this culminates in a unique, incredible adventure steeped with mythology, Maori fairies, monsters, betrayal, and an epic battle.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
There's a lot of promise but too much ground covered and too delayed a reward in this boarding school drama turned eerie fantasy. Set in debut author Healey's native New Zealand, the narrative follows snarky 17-year-old Ellie Spencer as she works on a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with her asexual best friend, while stalking Mark, an enigmatic crush, and worrying about a string of recent murders. What starts out as a simple whodunit soon morphs into a surprising blend of magical realism and ancient Maori mythology involving a magic mask, Mark's mind-controlling charm bracelet, and beings of “weird ageless beauty” who live in the mist, shaking up Ellie's view of the world. While Healey's prose is skilled and her characters well-formed (Ellie is an especially charismatic heroine), minor plot threads drop off—such as Ellie's mother's cancer—and the process through which the deeper story is revealed (a battle for survival between a small group of human warriors and the “fairy people,” also called “patupaiarehe”) feels frustratingly drawn out. By contrast, the thrilling last third of the novel, dedicated to the climactic battle, seems underdeveloped. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
VOYA - Nancy K. Wallace
Ellie Spencer agrees to spend a year at a New Zealand boarding school while her parents take a world tour. Feeling awkward and out of place at Mansfield College, she is grateful for Kevin Waldgrave's friendship. But when Kevin talks Ellie into orchestrating fight choreography for a theater production, it entails her leaving the campus at night, even though a murderer stalks the area. The first evening, Ellie encounters Reka, an ethereal beauty who has joined the theater cast. Then an expected hall collision with Mark Nolan, a hot day student, leaves Ellie tingling with more than suppressed sexual excitement. Events reveal that neither Reka nor Mark is entirely human, and Ellie holds special power herself and a unique place in the mystical world of Maori mythology. As the brutal murders and strange events coalesce, they point to a more sinister plot that threatens to destroy the entire North Island unless Mark and Ellie can prevent it. Extensive explanations of Maori culture and mythology occasionally bog down this mysterious and promising premise, and unfortunately, the glossary does not include sufficient entries to prevent the reader from searching elsewhere for definitions. Despite these minor flaws, this book offers likeable characters with mythical heritage, reminiscent of Percy Jackson, tying together myth and reality into a cohesive whole. The author effectively avoids a predictable happy ending. Mark is brutally killed, but his unique ancestry allows him to return as a taniwha, a sea creature, that is still able to converse with Ellie. Reviewer: Nancy K. Wallace
VOYA - Hanna Forrester
This book is enticing and utterly unique. The author paints a vivid picture of teenage love, unknown mythology, and a touch of sinister evil to keep readers checking under their beds every night. The taste of unheard New Zealand Maori mythology will delight and entertain a wide audience. This captivating tale will have readers hiding under the covers with a trusty flashlight until they finish the last fascinating and heartfelt page. Reviewer: Hanna Forrester, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Ancient Maori myth and tradition meet contemporary teens and teen problems in this engaging debut novel (Little, Brown, 2010) by Karen Healey. As the story opens, 17-year-old Ellie is attending boarding school in New Zealand while her parents are on an extended vacation. She has made friends at school—Kevin is her best friend, and she's attracted to Mark, a mysterious, handsome loner who is somehow able to make her forget certain events. The author takes her time setting up this story steeped in the supernatural, and in so doing, gives it depth. Ellie, who is full of spunk and wit and has substantial martial arts skills, gradually becomes aware of her special powers. Alternating between exciting, frightening, horrific, and darkly humorous, this unique and engaging story involves battles between ancient enemies, supernatural beings, suspense, malevolence, horror, serial murder, romance, friendship, danger, and death. Saskia Maarleveld's youthful New Zealand accented delivery perfectly captures Ellie's vitality and sarcastic humor, as well as the dark intensity of the tale. She gives all the characters unique voices. A brief discussion of the history and myths that inspired the story is included at the end, as well as resources for further reading. The inclusion of Maori legends and a glimpse at another culture make this novel unique.—Mary Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Kirkus Reviews
Ellie is in her final year at a New Zealand boarding school, living the typical teen's life: classes, friends, a black belt in tae kwon do and a crush on an adorable yet enigmatic boy named Mark. The big news locally revolves around the Eyeslasher murders, a series of killings in which the murderer removes his victims' eyes. After Ellie has a run-in with a woman who nearly turns Ellie into a tree, Mark reveals his true nature to Ellie. He is part patupaiarehe, the Maori equivalent of fairies, and some evil patupaiarehe are behind the Eyeslasher murders and on a quest for immortality. Though not a supernatural creature herself, Ellie has some inherited magical talent related to the patupaiarehe. Debut novelist Healey pulls readers in immediately with Ellie's funny, occasionally profane and often self-deprecating voice. The smart, strong protagonist is supported by a cast of equally intelligent peers. Fast-paced adventure and an unfamiliar, frightening enemy set a new scene for teen urban fantasy. (Urban fantasy. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316044301
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Pages: 345
  • Sales rank: 865,324
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Karen Healey is the author of the Aurealis winner and William C. Morris Debut Award finalist Guardian of the Dead, The Shattering, and When We Wake. She technically lives in New Zealand, but actually lives on the internet. You can find her at www.karenhealey.com.
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First Chapter

Guardian of the Dead


By Healey, Karen

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2010 Healey, Karen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316044301

Part One

CHAPTER ONE

Southern Lights

I opened my eyes.

My legs were bound and my head ached. There was one dark moment of disorientation before the bad-dream fog abruptly lifted and I woke up all the way and rolled to smack the shrilling alarm. I was exactly where I was supposed to be: in my tiny room, lumpy pillow over my head and thick maroon comforter wrapped around my legs. I disentangled myself and kicked the comforter away. The muffled tinkling as it slithered off the foot of the bed reminded me that Kevin and I had stored the empty beer cans there.

Well, that explained the headache.

I could hear voices in the living room, where the other girls in our little dorm-cum-apartment were gathering. I huddled farther under the pillow, willing myself ten minutes more sleep and hangover recovery time. The wisp of a thought was drifting somewhere in the bottom of my mind, refusing to rise to the level of consciousness. Something I’d forgotten.

A truly incredible snore resounded from the boy sleeping on the floor.

I rolled out of bed so fast that I lost my balance and fell right on top of him, my full weight thumping against his impressive chest. He wheezed, his dark eyes popping open.

“Shut up!” I hissed, jamming my hands over his mouth. “It’s morning!”

Kevin’s eyes went from huge to enormous. The living room was horribly silent. I tensed as someone knocked on the door.

“Ellie? Are you okay?” Samia asked.

“ ’m fine! I just fell!”

“Did you hurt yourself?” The doorknob rattled.

“ ’m naked!” I yelped. Samia wore headscarves and long sleeves in public, but she often walked through our girls-only apartment in nothing but her underwear and for a moment I entertained the horrible vision of her ignoring my fictional nudity and coming in anyway. She’d find a boy and alcohol in my room, she’d tell Mrs. Chappell, I’d get expelled from boarding school, my parents would have to leave their once-in-a-lifetime dream trip around the world, and then, they would kill me.

On the other hand, being discovered lying on top of Kevin Waldgrave would definitely improve my reputation at Mansfield for the short days I’d have remaining. I might even become someone vaguely acknowledged by the other students.

Tricky.

The doorknob stopped moving. “Oh!” she said. “See you in Geography.”

“See you!” I cried weakly, and let out a sigh of relief as the noise from the living room became a shuffle of departure.

“Your breath smells like an alcoholic’s ass,” Kevin remarked.

I got to my feet, hauled him to his, and punched him on the shoulder, not nearly as hard as I could have. “You fell asleep!”

“So did you.”

“It’s my bedroom. And you have to get out of it before someone sees.” I gave him a quick inspection, and made him zip his tracksuit up over the beer stain on his long-sleeved shirt. The light brown carpet lint I picked from the side of his face was almost the same shade as his skin, so I was lucky to catch it. His dense black hair was also a mess, but that was normal. “Okay. If you can make it to the road, you can say you went for a jog before breakfast.”

“You’re a genius.” He grinned, then shot me an uncharacteristically shy look. “Um. And a real mate. I think I said some stuff?”

I couldn’t face that conversation feeling this sick. “You have to go,” I said, hating myself a little for the way he stiffened. “We’ll talk later, though?”

Dark eyes looked down into mine. At six foot four, Kevin was one of the few people I knew who was taller than me. He was gratifyingly wider too, though in his case it was mostly muscle. “Sure,” he said. “We can talk on the way to rehearsal. Meet you at six?”

“Rehearsal for what?” I asked, and then that dream-foggy memory caught up with me. “Oh, shit.”

“You promised,” Kevin said.

“Because you got me drunk! I can’t believe you!”

“Ellie, you get permission to get away from this place for a while, and all you have to do is teach the cast how to pretend to smack each other without actually smacking each other.” He spread his hands, looking very reasonable.

I wasn’t fooled. “I have a black belt in tae kwon do, not in… stagey fake fighting.”

“You promised,” he insisted. “And we really, really need you. Iris is getting pretty desperate.”

Iris Tsang was a year older than us, stunningly pretty, permanently enthusiastic, and so nice it made my teeth itch. As far as I could tell, she’d also been in love with Kevin since kindergarten, completely undaunted by his lack of reciprocation. It was no wonder that she’d dragged him into her play when the original cast members had started deserting, even though all natural laws stated that first-year university students should forget all about people still at their old high schools.

This was what happened when I drank. It all seemed great at the time, and then it resulted in bad dreams and being dragged into situations where I’d have to talk to perverted egomaniacs who liked to prance around in tights, led by a woman who made me want to crawl into a total-body paper bag after ten minutes in her perfect presence.

“Fine,” I growled. “But I’m never drinking again. Get the hell out.”

“You’re a real mate,” he said again, and hugged me before he went out the window, which was fortunately large. The building backed onto Sheppard’s celebrated gardens, and from there it was just a quick climb over the fence. I watched him jog cautiously between the trees, and then turned to the concerns of the morning.

Samia could walk around in her underwear because she was slender and had actual boobs and smooth coppery brown skin that never got pimples. I, burdened by skin that was less “creamy” and more “skim milk,” and not at all blemish-free, avoided the mirror and peeled off my pajamas. I replaced them with my last clean long-sleeved blouse and the hideous maroon pleated skirt that stopped at mid-calf and made my legs look like tree stumps. My mustard-colored blazer was lying crumpled over my desk chair, so I grabbed the jersey instead. The scratchy wool cut into my upper arms and stretched awkwardly over my belly, leaving a bulging strip of white cotton exposed between skirt waist and jersey hem. I’d always been big, but after half a year with no exercise, living on the dining hall’s stodgy vegetarian option, I’d gone up two sizes to something that I was afraid approached out-right fat, without even the consolation of finally developing a decent rack. I put on knee-high gray socks—the girls were supposed to wear pantyhose, but no one ever did, just as we never wore the maroon trousers in winter instead of the stupid skirt—and slipped my feet into scuffed black shoes without untying the laces.

There. A proud representative of Mansfield College, New Zealand’s third-ranked coeducational high school, at her dubious best.

I hid the beer cans in the empty drawer under the bed and hit the communal bathroom to brush my teeth, throw freezing water on my face, and brush my hair back into a sleek ponytail. Then I hoisted my ragged backpack, pinched the bridge of my nose against the hangover headache, and stepped out into the morning mists.

The Anglican settlers, in their inspired wisdom, had established the city of Christchurch, jewel of New Zealand’s South Island, in the middle of a swamp. Every leaden day of this winter I had longed for my hometown in the North Island, the clean lines of Napier’s Art Deco buildings and the scattered sunlight on the sea, much brighter in my memory than it really was. In my head, I knew that I hadn’t liked winter in Napier either, and that Christchurch had its fair share of crisp, bright days where the smog kept to a decent altitude. But on bad days, the musty-smelling fog seemed to rise out of the sodden ground and ooze along it, seeping into streets and buildings and my skin.

Every time I went past the drab stone mass of Sheppard Hall, I was glad I didn’t have to live there with the younger girls. Sheppard had central heating and an impressively weighty tradition, but it also had lights-out times, hall patrols, and ground-floor windows that didn’t open all the way. The Year Thirteen buildings were brand-new, meant to prepare us for independence at university next year, and conveniently free of most obstacles to rule-breaking late night visits.

When Mansfield had first gone coed, the board of trustees had spent some time debating where exactly the new boys’ hall should go on the undeveloped land. Eventually, they’d paved Behn Street beside the girls’ hall, and plunked down brand-new and well lit rugby fields on the far side of the new road. Pomare Hall, all steel and glass, and much nicer than Sheppard’s drafty tower, sat smug and distant at the edge of the fields, as far from the girls’ side of the boarding area as possible. The trustees hadn’t been very trusting.

There were plenty of boys trudging along the path beside the fields, but no one tall enough to be Kevin. If he’d been caught, he wouldn’t give me away. But if he was suspended or expelled, I’d suffer all the same. He was all I had here.

I wasn’t quite sure how this had happened. I hadn’t been really popular in Napier, but I’d had friends, even if I’d drifted from most of them during what I thought of as Mum’s Cancer Year. When she’d recovered, she and Dad had decided to spend the remainder of the inheritance from my Granny Spencer on their lengthy trip around the world. Still suffused with relief at the recovery, I hadn’t minded being left behind. I had minded Dad’s response to my suggestion that I spend the year with my older sister in Melbourne. He was worried about her “influence,” which neatly translated to: “But, Ellie, what if you also catch the gay?” And none of my remaining friends’ parents had the room for me to stay.

“Boarding school,” Mum had decreed. Sulking at losing my Melbourne dreams, and angry on Magda’s behalf, I’d arbitrarily applied to Mansfield instead of to any of the North Island Catholic high schools Dad would have preferred. To my own shock, I’d been accepted—at least, by the selection committee. The students had been less welcoming. They weren’t really mean; just unwilling to open their tight social circles to a new girl. And, as I privately admitted when I wasn’t too busy feeling really sorry for myself, I hadn’t made much of an effort. Kevin had been a fortunate fluke—most of his friends had been in the year above. While plenty of people wanted to know him better, including most of the girls in our year, he’d settled on newcomer me.

In light of last night’s confession, picking the one girl his age who wasn’t eager to make kissy-face with him took on a more sinister dimension. But it had worked out well for both of us.

Unless, of course, he was expelled.

I waited at the pedestrian crossing with a cluster of younger Pomare boys, all of whom were happy to ignore me in favor of talking about the latest Eyeslasher murder.

“—heard that he keeps them around his waist like a belt.”

“Yeah? My cousin said it’s this cult, and the cops know who it is, but the Prime Minister’s son is mixed up—”

“She doesn’t have any kids, you dick!”

“—secret kids—”

I rolled my eyes and outpaced them when the light blinked green.

Busy mentally snorting at the appetites of fifteen-year-old boys for grisly conspiracy fantasies, I was going way too fast to stop when the girl in front of me halted abruptly at the gate. I tried to dodge sideways and ran straight into Mark Nolan, day student, loner, and focus of more than a few of my Classics-period daydreams. Everyone but me had gotten used to him and his enigmas; as a newbie, I still had some curiosity left.

Embarrassing, then, to crash into him outside the school gates.

“Oof,” he grunted, and tried to sidestep around me while I wobbled a few steps and bounced into the rough wall. He about-faced and grabbed my elbow. It was presumably to prop me up, but he didn’t have the weight to support me. Caught off-balance, I staggered into him again, threatening to send us both to the ground. Giggles bubbled out of my throat, dancing on the dangerous edge between amusement and mild hysteria.

“This is no good,” he said decisively, and braced himself against the wall while I put myself back on even keel. “Okay, I’m letting you go on three. One, two, three.”

“Ow!” I protested, my head jerking down.

And a tingling shock ran down my spine and through my veins. It reverberated in my head, like a thunderclap exploding behind my eyes. It wasn’t static electricity; it was nothing I’d ever felt before. Startled, I met Mark’s eyes, and found no comfort there. The perfect planes of his pale face had rearranged themselves into something frightening. It was the same face—same high cheekbones, same arched, feathery eyebrows, same thatch of shaggy red hair—but frozen into unnatural and shocking stillness. He stared at me, inhaled sharply, and then, as I blinked and stuttered, made himself look almost ordinary again.

Mark lifted his hand, easing the sting in my scalp, and I saw the cause—a strand of my hair had come loose and wrapped itself around something silver shining on his wrist. In defiance of the uniform code, it wasn’t a watch, but a bracelet made of links of hammered silver, small charms hanging off the heavy loops. The charms weren’t like my childhood jewelry—no tiny ballerinas or rearing ponies—but a jumble of more ordinary things: a small key; a bottle cap; a broken sea shell; a tuft of white wool; a gray pebble with a hole in the center; a stick figure bent out of No. 8 wire. My hair was twisted around the bracelet itself, caught between a stylized plastic lightning bolt and a rusty screw.

I’d never seen the bracelet before, and that was odd because I’d shamelessly memorized every visible inch of Mark, right down to the greasy tips of his hair, which he didn’t wash very often, and the way his maroon trousers were worn shiny at the knees. And those weird, compelling eyes; not blue-green or gray-green or brown-flecked hazel, but a uniform dark green, a color so pure and strong that it could (and often did) stop me dead from halfway across a room.

No one knew why anyone so good-looking seemed to make such an effort to disguise it. Rumor had it that he was super religious or a scholarship student, but the really religious kids tended to turn up well scrubbed, and the scholarships included uniforms. He took part in no school clubs, never had parents come for family days, and barely talked except in class. The only thing anyone knew for sure was that he’d been awarded the English and Latin cups every year at prize-giving, and never turned up to claim them. Samia thought he might be a communist. Kevin thought he had social anxiety. I thought he was far too pretty to be entirely real.

I’d never thought he could be scary.

He picked at the hair for a second, then met my eyes, now looking rueful and adorable. “Sorry, Spencer. Either I cut this loose, or we’re stuck together forever.” I hoped I didn’t look too awestruck. Was I a giggling idiot, to be struck by lightning at my first physical contact? But then, he’d felt something too. And he knew my name.

“Option two is tempting, but…” I yanked at the wayward hair. It resisted, then snapped raggedly, leaving a blondish strand knotted in the bracelet. “Yuck. Sorry.”

“No worries.” He rubbed thoughtfully at the knot and smiled at me, a sudden flash of white, even teeth. My breath caught in my throat and I felt the blush burn in my cheeks. “I like your laugh,” he said.

Apparently, that was a goodbye. He turned and strode through the school gate, head extended and fists clenched in his pockets to make bony wings, a heron stalking along a bank.

I stooped, fiddling with my shoelace until I felt my treacherous complexion was under control. That peculiar tingling sensation was still there, but it wasn’t as strong as the rising wave of glee. Mark Nolan had noticed my laugh.

Mansfield’s boarders’ dining hall was happy to give us hot breakfasts and dinners, but school-day lunches were packed for us in the morning, and available for pick-up at the morning break. I sat huddled in my jersey at my usual bench in the covered area outside the Frances Alda music center and occupied myself in picking the bacon out of my cold BLT. No matter what I put on the order form, I never got my vegetarian options for lunch. The kitchen staff was notoriously bad at “special” diets, although Samia’s sustained campaigning had finally got them to have halal beef and lamb sometimes. I was glad for her, but it didn’t do me or my mood much good.

Despite my best efforts at making eye contact, Mark Nolan had sat in the back row of Classics, and resolutely ignored everyone but Professor Gribaldi all period. It was his modus operandi, but I’d been hoping for more. Some shared joke, about my clumsiness, or his bracelet, or something.

“Hey,” Kevin said, and dropped onto the bench beside me, large and resplendent in his blazer.

I sat up straight. “Hey! Are we expelled?”

He took the piece of bacon from my fingers and dropped it into his mouth. “Yep. We’ll have to run away into the woods and live on nuts and berries.”

“I could eat bugs,” I offered courageously. “When the hunger pangs get really bad.”

He grinned. “Nah, we’re good. Walked in the door, told the guys I’d gone running. Even found a fresh pair of socks. Hey, did you hear there’s been another Eyeslasher murder?”

I grimaced. “Samia said in Geo. A phone psychic in Tauranga. God, I hope they catch the bastard soon.”

“Me too. Murder’s bad enough, but taking their eyes is sick.”

“I think the murder probably matters more.”

“Sure, but eyes are tapu, Ellie.”

I blinked at him. Kevin’s parents, on the two occasions I’d met them for uncomfortable dinners, had been as stiffly Anglo-Saxon as posh New Zealanders came, but Kevin’s light brown skin wasn’t the result of a good tan. I knew that his great-grandmother had been Nga¯i Tahu, and that he was one of the leading lights of Mansfield’s kapa haka performance group, but I hadn’t realized his desire to learn more about his roots had meant this much investment in Ma¯ori beliefs about the sacred.

“You’re right. Sorry. Wait, don’t you have kapa haka on Wednesdays?” I made vague hand gestures meant to invoke the poi twirling the girls did; Kevin rightly ignored me in favor of stealing my apple and holding it above my head.

“Give that back or I won’t turn up to your play,” I threatened. “And then there’ll be no one to be the no-woman’s-land between you and the admiring hordes.”

I meant it as a joke, but he scowled and shoved the apple into my palms. I blinked at him, awaiting explanation.

“Iris keeps…” he said. “She keeps… looking. Like maybe I’ll like her back if she can just be there enough.”

“She’s stalking you?”

“No!”

“You could tell her what you told me last night,” I ventured.

His scowl deepened.

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.

“ ’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.

“About Iris. She’s my oldest friend.”

I took my hand back. “I know.”

“And you’re my best friend,” he said, matter-of-fact, as if it was something I should have already known. “I want my oldest friend and my best friend to get along, you know?”

I swallowed hard against the sudden dryness in my throat, and knew that I’d never ask if he’d only befriended me in the first place because I’d been too withdrawn to go all gooey over him. What did it matter? It was real now. “You’re my best friend too.”

“ ’ll tell her. In my time. Okay?”

“Like I should have any say in it,” I said, exasperated and flattered. “Is that what you came to tell me?”

He nodded.

“Idiot. Go to kapa haka. Shout manly things.”

He bumped my shoulder with his and strode away. I returned to the contemplation of my soggy sandwich. Maybe I could skip lunch too. No; that led to eating disorders and hunger headaches. I bit into the apple instead and caught a flicker of movement in my peripheral vision.

Mark Nolan was walking toward the music center, covering the ground with his stalky heron gait. His gaze was unerringly fixed on me. “Spencer.”

I chewed and swallowed, little lumps of apple burning on the way down. “I do have another name.” That was tarter than anything I’d rehearsed in my head while I waited for Classics, but there was no reason for him to scowl at me like that.

His frown deepened. “Eleanor?”

“Only if you’re a teacher. Ellie.”

“Ellie,” he said. “Can I have a word? In private?”

I glanced around. Most of the older students preferred to eat in their common rooms on cold days, but there were a bunch of younger girls at a picnic table in the nearby quad, and a mixed group of Year Twelves flirting a little way beyond them.

“Sure,” I said, and shouldered my backpack. We were actually the same height, I noticed; only Mark’s slenderness and my slouching made him seem taller. “We can talk in the music center.” I could feel an echo of that same tingling thrill, and tried to tamp it down. No need to get excited, just because someone who never spoke to anyone was talking to me.

He nodded shortly and led the way through the glass doors, going left at the foyer, toward the smaller practice rooms in the back. In his wake, I had little time to admire the center’s blond wooden floors and atmosphere of peaceful light.

“Is something wrong?” I asked, wondering if I’d damaged the bracelet in our crash. He turned into the small corridor that led to the bathrooms. “Hey! Mark!”

He spun to face me, and I felt my breath catch at the angry tension in his face. “Did you know?” he asked, long fingers sliding over his bracelet’s charms.

I stared at him, and he moved closer, bringing the blood to my cheeks. “Spencer. Do you know what you are? What you could be?”

“No,” I said, dazed, knowing it was a strange question, but unable to work out why. I had no idea who I was or what I could be; wasn’t that normal, for people my age? My skin felt vibrant, warm and loose, as if it might slip off and tap-dance up the walls. I giggled at the thought.

Mark ignored my laughter and muttered to himself, eyes darting around the hall. “Do you break curfew?” He was wearing that frightening face again, and his green, green eyes were intent on mine.

The euphoria vanished and I swayed back into the wall. My head was pounding. “Sometimes.”

He stepped easily to the side as a skinny boy exited the bathroom, tugging at his belt. Mark’s long, lean body was suddenly right next to mine, his voice clear and quiet in my ear. The hairs on the back of my neck raised. “Don’t go out after dark alone,” he ordered, his breath soft against my throat.

Something was not right. I struggled for a moment, shaking my head and shoving my palms hard against the wall, but Mark’s hand clenched tight around his braceleted wrist and my resistance faded. “No,” I said. “I won’t.”

The tension went out of his shoulders and his hands relaxed. “Okay, Spencer. I’ll see you later.” He hesitated a second. “Sorry,” he added. “I had no idea.” Then he brushed past me and vanished around the corner, back stiff against some invisible strain.

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.”



Continues...

Excerpted from Guardian of the Dead by Healey, Karen Copyright © 2010 by Healey, Karen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 22, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey Review

    I'm not quite sure where to start my review for this one. My feelings for this book were continuously changing, so much so that I'm not sure what my final opinion was or if I even have a definitive opinion. What I can say is that Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey was intiguing, the whole way through.

    This being Healey's YA Debut novel I tried not to set my hopes too high, I feel like it's unfair to the book because sometimes a reader can come into the reading with too many high expectations and fail to give it a chance because it's not part of a series they already love or an author they're already familiar with. If I did come into this with high expectations it was unintentional, but regardless Healey met or surpassed them, that much I can say for sure.

    For me it's usually all about the characters, or at least mostly. If I can't relate to a character or find myself desperate to stay with them along their journey through the story than already the book has failed to live up to my normal expectations. This was not the case with Guardian of the Dead. The main character Ellie Spencer was wonderful. She was different from a lot of the typical female protagonists I've read lately and I found that refreshing. She had a sharp-wit and so much going for her, but at the same time readers will see immediately that she was struggling in her life. She was constanly comparing herself to others and always found herself lacking, self esteem was a major issue for Ellie throughout the book, but at the same time it became an integral part of the story.

    As side characters went, Kevin (the best friend) and Iris (the girl who loves the best friend) were great. They were simple and yet perfect for their roles, they didn't overly complicate the plot and definitely didn't slow down the writing. But let's face it...I'm a sucker for the male leads/prospective love interests for my main characters, and in Guardian of the Dead, Healey threw me a curveball with Mark Nolan. I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't read the book yet, but I'll say this...Mark was mysterious, frustrating at times, adorable at other times, and I loved him and hated him at multiple points in the book, lol. What's not to love about a guy like that right? All I know is that he wasn't your typical love interest, enough said!

    Healey brought a lot of Maori mythology & legends into this novel. I was not familiar with it prior to reading the book and will admit to being confused and slightly overwhelmed at certain points, but overall I enjoyed the lessons. I've always been interested in mythology and other faiths/beliefs that I may not have been knowledgable in before hand. Along with my confusion there was a matching fascination.

    If you haven't read this novel yet, I'm not sure why...go out and see for yourself the truly creative and beautifully written work that Healey presents.

    I gave Guardian of the Dead 4 stars and truly look forward to more of Healey's work, which includes me crossing my fingers for a sequel!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    from missprint DOT wordpress DOT com

    Ellie leads a typical life for a seventeen-year-old. She goes to class, hangs out with her best friend Kevin, 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, she has also volunteered her time to staging fight scenes for a play at the local university. Even if it 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 talking about a serial killer. 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.

    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 in Guardian of the Dead (2010) by Karen Healey.

    Guardian of the Dead was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Cybils. Although it did not win the top spot it holds a special place in my heart as a personal favorite from 2010 and I am very excited I can finally post my review. (It 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 here-particularly the notion that stories shape us all. Much like traditional myths nothing is quite as it seems in Guardian of the Dead and, often, 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 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 and desirable and powerful throughout the story. Tall and ungainly she is athletic but also chubby. None of which is the point of the book or becomes over-emphasized because there is so much more to her. Which is such a realistic and healthy characterization even if it is one that doesn't always appear in books.

    Guardian of the Dead is everything I want to see in a Chick Lit Wednesday book and Ellie is everything I want in a heroine. Filled with mythology, action, wit, and even some romance Guardian of the Dead is a charmer that will leave you thinking even while it leaves you with a smile.

    Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

    Be sure to visit my blog for more Exclusive Bonus Content!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2014

    Fresh and captivating

    This book was amazing and I really enjoyed it. Some parts of it were a little ard to follow but it continued to surprise me with it's plot twists and I loved the main character as well as the asexual representation and the ending was unconventional and amazing

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  • Posted January 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting Folklore With a Mythical Twist

    Guardian of the Dead is not quite the book it looks or sounds like it would be, but it is full of New Zealand-based mythology and a backstory of folklore that more than entertains. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, so when weird things started happening and the explanations began to unfold, I was pleasantly surprised. And interested. If you know nothing about New Zealand culture/history/folklore, then be prepared for an overflow of information.

    Which is both good and bad. It certainly keeps the reader enthralled, but it can be too much at times. It became a little difficult to keep the folklore tales straight and even understand some of them. But if you can stick with it, then you’ll come out with a very complete and captivating story.

    My one major issue with the book was the main character. Ellie has all the makings of a very strong female character: she’s a bit of a loner, but has a good best friend; she’s intelligent, a little snappy, funny, and abrasive, but then she’s uber self-conscious and even self-hating. I understand that she may be uncomfortable with her weight, but she goes on, throughout the entire book, whining about how fat she is and comparing herself to other, gorgeous, thin girls. It made me hate her a little.

    That being said, Guardian of the Dead, still has a lot to offer. The twists are very good, the characters (aside from self-hating main character) interesting – I wish we saw more of Ellie’s best friend Kevin – and the folklore something I’ve never heard about before. Karen Healey brings New Zealand to the reader and makes us a part of her fantasy, but entirely based in reality, world.

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  • Posted January 23, 2011

    dint waste your time

    i read this book as did my aunt it takes forever to get into and onve you find youself wanting to read it your on the last page

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2010

    awful.

    the jacket sounded promising when i read it. it really did. i don't know what happened. i gave this book a fair shot. i read over 200 pages but i could just NOT get into it. it was so...all over the place and nothing was ever explained. it just..happened. and i was like wutttt? o.0
    i couldn't make sense of any of it. and idk. it wasn't a flowing story. it was just BAM random fact. BAM random event. nothing connected. it was awful. don't waste your money.

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  • Posted June 5, 2010

    An Edgy YA thriller

    My thoughts...Guardian Of The Dead is a fast paced, edge of your seat YA thriller. It is packed with suspense, folklore, and mythological creatures.

    The story, which takes place in New Zealand, begins with the heroine Ellie, attending boarding school. She is a strong character with imperfections. Ellie is not your typical drop dead ggorgeous, rail thin heroine. She is a bit conscious of her weight, but she is very talented in the martial arts. The other characters served their purpose in building the story, but they did not make a big impression on me.

    The plot moved at a steady pace. The action is built around the Maori legends of New Zealand. It was very interesting, but it seemed to be explained in large chunks and I got a bit confused at times. The good thing is you do not have to completely understand the stories to keep up with the plot. Enough information was presented for me to figure out who was good and evil. I did not realize, until I finished the book, that there was a glossary in the back. This would have been helpful in understanding the legends of the Maori. This book did a great job of setting up for future installments. The world is complex, imaginative, and a bit creepy. Overall, I enjoyed Guardian Of The Dead and I will be watching for more from this author.

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  • Posted May 1, 2010

    Intriguing world of fantasy and Maori culture

    GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD, by Karen Healey, was an epic adventure full of fantasy and Maori mythology that will leave you breathless. The infusing of mythology into fiction creates a one of a kind story that will make you want to learn more about this fascinating culture.

    This book took me on a journey that I never expected. This book takes place in New Zealand (NZ) where the Maori culture is a big part of society. Ellie is especially knowledgeable in the Classics and mythology of NZ. Her intelligence is definitely a service to her in the spectacular and dangerous journey that she undertakes.

    Ellie was just like any other teenage girl with self-esteem issues, mostly physically, but the threat of tragedy that weighs on her home she overcomes her doubts exceptionally. Her crush, Mark Nolan, was an amazing character to explore. He was the farthest away from anything Ellie thought of him, but he was also brave and unselfish. These two made an scintillating pair full of electricity and life.

    I was wholly fascinated by the Maori customs and mythology that were unearthed in this book. I learned so much about their beliefs and how the people and creatures present in NZ came about according to these myths. The visuals of the mists and Ellie's sight were impressive. Healey created a fantasy world that leaped off the pages.

    The cover of the book was both alluring and terrifying. There is no telling from this cover what the story is about but it leaves the idea that something ominous will result in the story.

    Overall this book was a masterpiece. Combining magic, mythology, with a young love story makes it a huge hit. I cannot wait to see future books from this author.

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  • Posted April 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great

    I really enjoyed this book, it was a smart mix of Different Mythologies that really helped the story. I strongly reccomend it

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