To get things started, I thought I’d repost a review I wrote earlier this year, which was published on the Rodney Libraries blog.
I was really impressed with Guardian of the Dead. It’s one of the best pieces of New Zealand fantasy I’ve read for a long time. By that I mean not just a book written by a New Zealander, but set in New Zealand too. I think it’s something that’s hard to get right. Most times I feel like the New Zealand setting is superfluous – like the author feels obligated to set it in New Zealand, because they’re a New Zealand author. Otherwise, the story could take place anywhere. In Guardian, where the story draws heavily on Maori myth and legend, the setting is not only essential, it’s an asset.
Just a few months ago I was thinking that the Maori stories of patupaiarehe would make an interesting starting point for a fantasy novel – and then Anne put this on my desk, hinting (rather heavily) that wouldn’t it just be lovely if I reviewed it for the blog. Just reading it on my lunch breaks soon became frustrating. I’m not good at nibbling away at books; I like to gobble them whole. So, about halfway through I took it home and finished it that night (somewhat ignoring the guests we had, but they’re family so they should be used to me by now).The theme running through the book is that the stories we’re raised on shape us and the world we see. Because it’s set in New Zealand that means a decent helping of Maori myth and legend. And while the well-known figures of Rangi, Papa and Maui make cameos, it’s the lesser known race of the patupaiarehe who are the main antagonists.
Te Ara (Encyclopedia of New Zealand) describes patupaiarehe as “fairy-like creatures of the forests and mountain tops. Although they had some human attributes, patupaiarehe were regarded not as people but as supernatural beings (he iwi atua).They were seldom seen, and an air of mystery and secrecy still surrounds them.” I hadn’t heard of them until quite recently, but they immediately caught my imagination.
This book has a bit of everything: magic, adventure, romance, and a heroine with a black belt in tae kwan do. Our heroine, Ellie, is a teenager with the requisite self-esteem issues, but she’s got enough fight and feistiness in her to make her a likeable and relatable character.