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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Guardian by Mary Calmes

The Guardian by Mary Calmes
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (220 pgs)
Other: M/M, anal sex
Rating: 3.5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

Jude Shea's life is turned upside down when he rescues a dog he names Joe. Even though Jude has enough trouble taking care of himself—he doesn't even have a job—he can't resist the animal that needs him. Then one night, a man shows up on his doorstep looking to claim Jude's new companion. As they run from a surprise attack, Jude finds out that "Joe" is not what he seems.

Eoin Thral is a guardian from an alternate dimension, and once he leads Jude through the veil that separates their worlds, he transforms into a handsome hulk of a man known for his fighting skills, not the capacity for love. Jude finds himself immersed in Eoin’s world, and he's faced with the fight of his life to secure a happy future for them both.

At three in the morning, at the end of a dirty city tunnel, in dog form, is not how most people expect to find their soul mates. This is precisely what happens to Jude Shea though in this entertaining novel of love across two worlds.

This is a familiar SF/fantasy romance thread, real-world person, bereft and grieving for some reason, rescues/encounters a magical/otherworldly/alien being with whom he/she eventually falls in love. The initial approach here, with the love story beginning as a boy and his dog story, was intriguing. Eoin, in his guise as Joe the dog, is endearing, his actions described in such careful terms that the reader knows perfectly well, even before we have the benefit of his POV, that this is no dog. Jude, who has no experience of dogs and hasn’t been the best judge of people in his life either, is charmingly clueless. The author gives us enough hints to know there’s something bad coming for them, the underlying tension as we wait thrumming underneath the more mundane concerns of Jude’s life.

The anticipation, the reader’s anxiety, is drawn out quite well in the early third of the book, with the hints and bits of Eoin’s world and his intentions. Unfortunately, when we reach Midrin, the promise never quite fulfills itself. The fantasy world should have felt as real as Jude’s Chicago, even if he believes for a while that it’s just a dream. But the people and places, the politics and culture of Midrin are never quite fully fleshed out. The king’s motives (unless he’s completely cracked, which we don’t know since we never meet him) are sketchy and too simplistic. We never get an explanation of what a gryphon truly is or how they differ from the other Guardians. We’re not terribly clear on what the Guardians are either except in form and function – not the why’s of them (why do they exist? Why do they give their loyalty? Why do they so seldom find mates?).

It’s unfortunate, as well, that during the climactic conflict, we don’t get to be with Eoin, but are instead banished back to Chicago to watch Jude navigate the world of marketing. It wasn’t a choice I entirely understood since this is not a first person narrative and we most certainly do have scenes from Eoin’s point of view. (A tighter rein on POV in general might have been advisable, as well, since there is considerable head-hopping in some scenes, into the minds of secondary characters which could have been avoided.)

Despite that I did enjoy this story. It is at its best in its scenes of discovery between Jude and Eoin. Their sincere desire to bridge the enormous gulf of understanding between them creates some wonderful dialogue. The love scenes, as they both discover things about themselves which they had denied or not suspected, are lovely and often touching. Eoin’s sudden shift from commanding to hesitant because he had never been kissed before is one of my favorite moments. The Guardian is an enjoyable, light summer read, one that just may have you looking twice at that next stray dog at your door.

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