Today’s book review comes from team member Barb, she blogs at http://barbtaub.com/
Barb chose to read and review Guardians Of The Dead by S.L. Wilson
My Review: 4 stars out of 5
Shelley Wilson, best-selling author of self-help/motivational titles such as How I Changed My Life In a Year: One Woman’s Mission To Lose Weight, Get Fit, Beat Her Demons, And Find Happiness …In Twelve Easy Steps! has just released her first novel, the YA fantasy, Guardians of the Dead (Book 1 in her Guardians series).
In this magical-girl coming-of-age story, Wilson pays often-loving tribute to almost every trope I associate with the genre:
- The Chosen One: Reluctant heroine sixteen-year-old Amber Noble inherits a destiny that is both an ancient inheritance and the result of her parents’ mysterious other traits.
- Turn Sixteen, Hello Hell: Like teen heroes from Harry to Buffy, when we meet her, Amber is a typical high-school girl with parent issues (her father is distant, and her stepmother is literally from hell). She stumbles along until she turns sixteen, when her powers are triggered by a magical encounter in a graveyard.
- Muggle Best Friend: Amber’s adorable best friend Tom has always been there for her. So when she tells him about her little problem with seeing graveyard demons killing and/or kidnapping her classmates, Tom introduces her to India, a Wiccan bookstore owner and practicing witch—and also to India’s sexy, half-fae nephew Connor. And that’s where things get weird. Tom disappears, Connor and Amber set out to rescue him from hell—or at least from Phelan, its really scary hellmouth equivalent. Phelan is ruled and guarded by the appropriately named Guardians of the Dead under the rule of villainous General Loso.
- Fairy tale elements. Every magical girl story from Bewitched to Buffy draws on a rich fairy and folk tale tradition. Author Shelley Wilson has done her homework, and she pretty much nails these:
- Evil Stepmom (ESM): When Amber’s mother disappeared ten years earlier, her father lost no time in remarrying. Her new stepmother, Patricia, is just about the scariest ESM ever—“Her perfectly groomed hair was scooped into a flamboyant updo; she wore a pink Juicy Couture tracksuit with matching manicure and pedicure, and was smirking.” Not content with the despicable matching mani/pedi, Patricia has arranged the modern equivalent of dumping Amber in the woods near the witch’s cottage: a summer job at a local beauty spa. Truly, her evil knows no bounds.
- Fairy Godmother: Amber discovers that she has an ancestor who shows up to provide answers and support at key moments. In true fairy tale mode, those answers usually boil down to “the magic is in you”, allowing Amber to tap into various lifesaving magic tools just when she needs them the most.
- Fairy Companion: Here’s where things get interesting. Phelan has some seriously scary occupants, but overall it seems surprisingly beautiful—especially, when they meet gorgeous teenaged fae prince Redka.
- Magical Plot Coupon: Amber and her friends will have to acquire a magical item from General Losa which will allow them to return home, and rescue…well, everyone. That’s the easy part. The hard part is dealing with her attraction to both Connor and Redka. Sometimes it’s just so hard to be a gorgeous, sixteen-year-old chosen nonhuman heroine with hormones and parental issues.
Guardians of the Dead is a fast-paced, breezy read. Amber is an occasionally snarky but (also occasionally) kickass heroine. It’s completely unlike me to say this, but I’d like to have seen it go a bit darker and lots longer. There are hints that aren’t developed. For example, General Losa has imprisoned Redka’s mother, a beautiful fairy queen. At first it’s just because he wants her to make him immortal, but we’re told that he falls in love with her. I’d like to have seen some evidence of that, some inner conflict that is perhaps a step away from the black-and-white of good vs evil. Also, there just isn’t time to develop the emotional side of the love triangle, so we have to accept Amber’s word for her overwhelming attraction to both Connor and Redka.
A big part of every girl’s story is her relationship with her mother. But Amber never seems more than slightly annoyed about being abandoned by a mother who seems perfectly willing to consider others’ needs as more important than those of her own daughter. Finally, for a coming-of-age story, there isn’t much character development or growth. Amber does change a bit, mostly through the acquisition of conveniently useful magical gifts. Tom shows signs of stepping up his role from adorable to kickass wannabe sidekick, as does Connor. Sadly, Redka remains cardboard thin, as do the fairy queen and assorted parents.
BUT (and this is what brings this story up from three to four stars) Wilson does a very good job of giving this story arc its own ending, while still leaving plenty of loose threads to tie up in future instalments. I’d give this little book an enthusiastic four stars, and say that I’m looking forward to seeing growth in future volumes.