Monday, April 25, 2011

First look at Karen Healey's GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD

In December I got an ebook copy of Karen Healey's Guardian of the Dead. I found a lot that I didn't like as I read it, and little that I did like.

It is on my mind today because of a pre-conference workshop I'm giving on Wednesday in Albuquerque at the annual conference of the New Mexico Library Association. I'll be talking about inappropriate use of sacred Native stories. I've got examples of picture books, but not a novel, so I think I'll add Guardian of the Dead to my power point and worksheet set.

With that thought in mind, I was reading online reviews and came across one that hits on many of the same things I noted. The reviewer is Kari, and her review is on the goodreads site.


Mel said...

I've found some interesting critiques of Guardian of the Dead on various fronts (given the numerous things Healey was trying to do in the book), but what I haven't found yet are critiques from any Maori readers.

I do not know a ton about Maori culture, but I think I probably know more than Kari does...I'm not very impressed with that review, especially since she starts out by being baffled as to why positive representation of asexual characters in literature might be necessary--I dunno, because there almost AREN'T any?

Have you come across any reviews discussing the book from a Maori point of view? I know Healey did in fact consult extensively while writing the book--she didn't just do book research and make stuff up--which of course does not guarantee success, especially since not all Maori agree about everything.

Debbie Reese said...


Kari is pointing to the logic within the story. I don't think she is saying that it is pointless to have Kevin in there as asexual, but that as the story continues, his identity as someone who is asexual is called into question by his sexual attraction to Reka.

Like you, I'm looking for critiques from Maori readers. For my workshop, I want participants to study Healey's Afterword.

I'll have a better sense of it all after the workshop, but at this point, it seems to me that Healey did do this research, and THEN she made (some) stuff up.

Have you read/studied the afterword?

Zeborah said...

Argh, Blogger ate my comment. Short version:

* As possibly-asexual, that read to me that Reka was forcing the attraction on him - just as if she forced a heterosexual woman to be attracted to her, that wouldn't make the woman suddenly lesbian or bisexual, just mind-raped so to speak.

* The reviewer complains about the portrayal of Christchurch, but as someone who's lived in Christchurch most of my life it rang intensely and joyfully true for me.

* The plot worked for me too and even though I didn't want the ending to end that way, given that it did it felt convincing; but this is much more of a mileage-varies thing.

* I've only got your average Pākehā's surface knowledge of Māori mythology - enough to tell what Healey appropriated and what she invented. Thinking about it more though, I think the Māori-authored fantasy and science-fiction (and for that matter general fiction) I've read might tend to use less of the fundamental stories like Hinenui-o-te-Pō and Te Ika a Māui, and more of lesser-known stories, or local stories, or sometimes stories that seem completely invented (as in Ihimaera's Sky Dancer). I'm not sure; I'll have to keep reading and thinking about this.

kari said...

I just wanted to clarify. I wasn't baffled by the positive representation of an asexual boy. I actually would have found it interesting, but I was baffled about the way the asexual boy is represented because it didn't make any sense.
His reason for being Ellie's friend was that he didn't find her sexually attractive. Of course he doesn't, he's asexual.
Then, later on he is sexually attracted to the fairy woman so he didn't really seem to be asexual.
I'd have actually enjoyed it if the story had explored his sexual nature more thoroughly.

Zeborah said...

In my memory, I thought it was partly that he wasn't attracted to her and partly that she wasn't attracted to him / wasn't expecting him to be attracted to her -- so no pressure on him.
But my memory could be wrong, or I might have filled in stuff that wasn't written on the page.

kari said...

I think Ellie makes reference that she was attracted to him, but that he only thought of her as a friend.
The whole asexual stuff was just a big distraction because the whole thing didn't really play any part in the plot. The whole Kevin/Reka thing didn't really figure into the overall plot. It's like that was a side story that didn't really connect to the other story. I kept waiting to find out how Kevin was linked into the rest of it, that somehow his asexuality was related to the stuff with the gods and all. If it had actually been a part of it, then I'd have felt differently. As it is, that seemed a big distracting half of the book. Just my opinion.
And I know nothing of Maori culture so my review is just a typical reader.