Reviewed by Alice DiNizo for Readers' Favorite
Guardian of the Dead draws on Maori mythology but is set in modern day New Zealand. Main character Ellie Spenser has enrolled in Mansfield College in southern New Zealand while her parents are on an extended cruise to celebrate her mother's being cancer-free. Ellie is tall, slightly overweight and not totally welcomed at Mansfield, except by handsome Kevin who claims her as his friend. Iris Tsang also looks to Ellie for help with her off-campus theater production, as cast members keep quitting. Ellie is entranced with day student, Mark Nolan, red-haired and handsome; and Mark, in turn, is attracted to Ellie. However, Ellie is not amused by the other newcomer, beautiful, exotic Reka Gordon, who makes it clear that she wants Kevin, pure and simple. But Kevin's family has long ago secrets that may be traceable to Reka and even to Ellie's Mark. Reka and Mark are not totally what they seem, and an epic battle forms as Ellie, Mark, a host of native mythological characters and even Ellie's Professor Garibaldi fight against the patupaiarehe that leaves Ellie grief stricken. Reka departs, leaving Ellie with the words, "Look to the sea," and Guardian of the Dead ends with Ellie and Mark's most unusual, but consoling, reunion.
Author Karen Healey has written a first-rate fantasy with believable mythological tales interwoven into the story. Ellie Spenser is a strong and authentic main character, and her relations with all the characters major and minor are well created. The entire book is well written and well edited, and the plot proceeds believably to its conclusion with the twists and turns required to make it great fantasy. Ellie's romance with Mark is exceptionally well created. Ellie, Kevin, Mark and Iris are teenagers, and they behave as teenagers would. This is a highly recommended read for discerning teens who love first-rate fantasy.