Wow! This book was like a breath of fresh air for me. It's unlike anything I've read before, and I really enjoyed it. I read a lot of young adult urban fantasy, and while for the most part I really enjoy this genre, I feel that sometimes the characters and the settings can become a little formulaic. Not in this book, though! Karen Healey has created a unique story here. The setting is New Zealand, and the theme, Maori myths and legends. As an added bonus, you have Ellie Spencer to guide you on your way. She's one of my favourite female protagonists in a while.
We're first introduced to Ellie as she wakes up tired and hungover after a night of drinking cheap beer and sharing secrets with her hunky best friend, Kevin. I liked Ellie right from the start . She's very easy to relate to. She's not perfect, she makes mistakes, and she likes to break the rules. I also liked the fact that she's not a picture perfect female protagonist with supermodel good looks who has guys falling at her feet. She feels awkward and slightly overweight, suffers from bad skin and is nervous around her major boy crush, the mysterious Mark Nolan. So, just your typical teenager then, but it's actually very refreshing that she's written this way.
I admit having known absolutely zero about Maori mythology before reading this book, and while at times I had had a little difficulty keeping track of all the different gods and legends, mostly the story flowed quite easily as the writing style is very engaging. There's also a glossary of Maori words at the back of the book, which is very helpful, so be sure to check that out. I stayed up late into the night reading this one, even though I admit, my interest did wane just a little during the battle scenes - not because they weren't well written and entertaining, but just because I am not really one for major battle scenes and bloodshed.
For me the ending of the book was a little surprising, and while Guardian of the dead works well as a standalone novel, I can definitely say I was left wanting more.