You know, I miss rock stars.
Nowadays, when there's a good-looking, seemingly unattainable, arrogant boy in a teen novel, he's not Peter Frampton. He's not Morrissey. He's not even Dave Grohl, who, after all, is all daddied-up nowadays and so I suppose is not nearly as unattainable as he used to be. No, nowadays that gorgeous bad boy is bound to be a vampire. Or a werewolf. A changeling, say. In Guardian of the Dead, he's patupaiarehe.
He's WHAT?! Patupaiarehe?! Dude, man, I was totally going to use native Maori fairy legend when I wrote my Twilight-y teen paranormal romance novel, and now? Dang.
Lower left-hand corner of this block of stamps. That's a Maori fairy, a patupaiarehe. Boy is cut, right? And, like most things Maori, Maori fairies are fierce. Strong and heartless and full-sized. No wings. Bearing no resemblace to a Disney fairy, except I suppose that, presumably, because they're supernaturally gorgeous, they also have cute butts and big eyes. Maybe Lady Gaga is patupaiarehe. Would explain a lot.
Am I dwelling on the Maori fairy thing? I am. Here's why: this book may be a teen paranormal romance novel, but it has about as much in common with other teen paranormal romances as the Maori fairy does with Tinkerbell.
Our protagonist in Guardian of the Dead is Ellie. She's expert in tae kwon do, socially inept, and, apparently, actually overweight. This is rare. Usually, when a girl character describes herself as plain, or fat, or ugly, it is because she lacks the perspective (or the self-esteem) to see herself as she really is... and at some point somebody points this out to her, often someone who doesn't like her, so you know it must be true. Nobody corrects Ellie when she calls herself fat, and I love that. She is not beautiful, and she is still a hero. Still worthy of love.
Ellie kicks ass. Ellie gets exasperated. Ellie falls in love, and cannot trust herself (or him, and for good reason). Ellie also gets beat up kind of a lot. Ellie is Orpheus - not Eurydice.
Ellie's best friend is Kevin. Kevin is big and handsome and athletic - and totally impotent, in several important ways. Kevin describes himself as asexual, and is allowed to be so. He's not under a curse, or merely immature, and he doesn't wake up one morning and decide that he's in love with Ellie. He is what he says he is. Ellie saves his ass.
Ellie's crush is Mark. Mark is secretive and doesn't wash his hair enough, does well in school but shuns social contact. When Ellie begins to figure out Mark's secrets, he bewitches her so hard she gets a migraine that makes her puke. Mark is by no means perfect. Ellie saves his ass, too.
The plot, by the way, is also good. Unpredictable, full of interesting bits of myth, with lots of well-scripted action. Did I mention Ellie gets beat up a lot? Man. Healey's writing makes you feel it every time Ellie gets tossed in a stream, every time she gets clawed by supernatural Maori scaries. Also, we are in the land of the funny teens. Their dialogue is both natural and witty - Ellie in particular does self-deprecating wit with easy grace.
Karen Healey is a first-time author, and, as such, could this book use a little polish? Maybe, especially in the dialogue-heavy scenes. But her command of myth and geography, her sprightly plotting, and my god, those wonderful characters more than make up for it. Look for this one in April.