Dominic Coville has little enough to recommend him to potential employers. He failed to make the best use of his education and now his parents are dead and his meager inheritance stolen. He’s finding it a tough go in the world, but still he’s determined to make the best of any position he might be offered. And then he is hired by the frail and elderly Mr. Knight to serve as a personal secretary at the man’s estate, Mandrake Abbey. Despite the fact the Abbey is rather desolate and gloomy, Mr. Knight’s welcome is genuine and Dominic finds his work as secretary to be far from difficult.
But all too quickly the shadows of Mandrake Abbey become decidedly more sinister. Ghosts, strange messages, and a disturbing sketchbook all draw Dominic more deeply into a dangerous game between the living and the dead. With the help of local magician, Edgar Swann, and his sister, Amelia, Dominic must find the courage to put the dead to rest without becoming joining their ranks.
Guardian Angel was a wonderfully creepy book that ultimately failed to live up to its full potential due to several key issues. This is a fantasy with limited but decidedly crucial pieces of world building. There are magicians, but they play a minimal role in the book and Dominic isn’t one of them. I like that the author has developed a world where magic exists, but where having it is no more or less significant than having brown hair or green eyes. As a result, it doesn’t create some huge societal barrier or political controversy. It just is or it isn’t and I liked the simple acceptance of that. Another other magical component of Guardian Angel are ravens, which are used as messengers (think pigeons but cooler). The use of these ravens means tapping into an ancient form of magic that tolerates humanity, but doesn’t necessarily like it. So the ravens themselves are neither good or bad, yet slightly sinister all the same and that gave them an unpredictability that I really enjoyed.
The overall plot to Guardian Angel is a good old-fashioned horror story, replete with ghosts, murder and a disturbing caretaker. There is something of a Gothic quality to the plot, and there is a slow reveal to the reality of Mandrake Abbey’s monsters. This eeriness is Guardian Angel’s real strength and the thing that kept me engaged long after I might have normally abandoned it.
There is something of a minimal romance that occurs between Dominic and Edgar, but I considered this one of the book’s failures. We’re never really given much information about Edgar and he always feels flat and dull. The romance between he and Dominic is supposed to be a grand passion, but comes off as rather weak and never particularly engaging. There were times when I felt the book would have been better off had the romance either been allowed to develop more naturally or just set aside altogether.
The real issue with Guardian Angel was the length. The book was excessively long and easily half of it could have been cut with no loss of plot or characterization. Had Guardian Angel been a novella, its spooky edginess would have been ramped up several notches and really taken the horror aspect to a new level. As it was, there are long passages of the mundane that drag down the action and become repetitive. Had this not been a review, there were a couple of times I would have walked away from the book altogether, but ultimately its solid paranormal core saves Guardian Angel.
Guardian Angel was in serious need of editing, at least in terms of length. Had it been a tighter read and the action more concise, it would have been a much more enjoyable book. As it was, the story was held together by an excellently rendered current of horror and dread, one that creeps into every aspect of the plot and leaves the reader with a few well deserved shivers. If you enjoy Gothic horror, then you might want to grab Guardian Angel.