Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Down Low with Nikki-O: A Retrospective Review of The Guardian by Mary Calmes

May is the month of heroes. This month is the time when we in the United States of America look back to our past in an effort to honor the men and women who have served in our various military branches to protect us from the onslaught of our enemies. I think that whatever our socio-political views, we can agree that those brave men and women ought to be honored.

Today, in keeping with that theme, I want to take a look at those elite of the  special ones, the warriors who give their all whether they fall tin battle with their enemies or not. I can't think of a book that more perfectly exemplifies this than The Guardian by Mary Calmes. Of course there are others which deal directly with contemporary military themes, where the soldiers are the kind we might see walking the streets of our hometown. I chose this particular novel to review because the lyricism of its words sang to me. I chose it because the characters rise above themselves, reach above the realm of military hero and partner. Indeed, they transcend into the realm of archetype. They become so fully the one who selflessly serves and the one born to love them that they are everyone who has ever served, everyone who has ever loved and waited in awesome trepidation while keeping the home fires burning bright for their warrior.

Come with me. Journey through a fantasy as real as the air within your lungs, and find yourself painted on the pages of the story. Yes, you are as surely there as Eoin Thral and Jude Shea are, and discovering such will surely be a delight to both the soul of a warrior and the heart of the home which resides in all of us.

5 out of 5 Martini's for The Guardian by Mary Calmes

Ms. Calmes had a tough row to hoe with me on this one. You see, I'd already read enough of her work that I went in expecting greatness. I also cut my reading teeth on Tolkien, so any fantasy book I read needs to be quite extraordinary to be able to move out of the shadow of that masterpiece.

 In short, I wanted to like this story, but didn't hold out much hope that anyone, not even the amazing Mary Calmes, could reach the pinnacle where I'd placed the very best mark for this category. I opened the story, soothed from my inner Fantasy-Reader snobbery somewhat by the truly lovely artwork and cover design of Anne Cain and Mara McKennen respectively. I turned to the first page of the story--and fell in love. At first the pull of Ms.Calmes words felt gentle, even alluring. She posed a mystery and piqued my curiosity enough to draw me farther into the story.  I wandered into Jude's world (Jude is the main character you meet first) without noticing how deftly Ms. Calmes had disarmed me of my skepticism regarding being able to live up to her own high literary standards, let alone those of Tolkien. She shushed my fears, and took from my hands the critical pen and paper poised to note faults of punctuation and content. She set them neatly on a shelf by the door to the world of The Guardian, kindly pointed out the clear labeling assuring no one would walk off with my things... and then she smiled like the sun coming from behind clouds on the fifth day in a row of rain, took my hand and led me without words to Jude's bedside. She brushed the hair from his forehead with gentle hands. Turning with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she gestured to the sleeping man. Her intent was as clear as if she'd spoken the words, "Get in." I was to ride inside the character, and look at the world through his eyes.

And you know what? I did. From that very first page until the final one, I was so thoroughly immersed in the characters that I can not for the life of me recall a single flaw in the work. I slid easily from Jude's point of view to Eoin's, and watched others in the book through their eyes. Not a single thing broke the trance Ms. Calmes put me in, and at the end I wanted to turn back to the first page that I might live a little longer in their world. For Jude and Eoin were perfect representations of what a military couple ought to look like from the inside out. Eoin's unswerving loyalty to his mate reached even beyond his nearly unimaginable sacrifices for his liege lady, his Baroness... and there you see the brilliance in this work. Ms. Calmes takes us right to the edge of what is conceivable, plants her feet firmly while taking our hands and creates an unbreakable tether of words allowing us to lean out over the cliff's edge to see the incredible hidden worlds housed in each valley of her imagination.

She built in Jude a man of compassion and yearning. Not until he meets Eoin does one begin to believe in Jude's beauty. She built in Eoin a warrior so dedicated to his cause that you can not even see the lack of love in his life--not until he meets Jude, and Jude begins to comfort him over his loss. Jude is everything a soldier longs for in a mate. He is unswerving in his loyalty to Eoin. He is capable of caring for himself in the face of his partner's prolonged absence when Eoin is away at war. He is open enough of heart to love his man to the depths of his soul and capable of giving Eoin the great gift of his need. This is shown in his every action, in the way he views Eoin, in the ways he reacts to the other man. Eoin shapes up into a man who is misunderstood by most, viewed as brutish and frightening... but only to others. In fact, when Jude is told of Eoin's brutish nature, he can not wrap his head around the story.

And again, brilliance. I had to read the story multiple times before I could see where the seams were to the whole garment that the story is, another item of apparel in Ms. Calmes closet of wonders. The words made such tiny stitches in the fabric I had to almost close my eyes and feel for those seams. And I still can not tell you if there are flaws in the story. Because I can not sit back and look at it from the outside. Even on the fifth reading I am still immersed in the characters. I can only tell you this story is a must read for anyone who has every been a soldier, or loved a soldier. Because woven into its fabric is the stuff of which such people are made.
It is a masterpiece, albeit a quiet one. There is nothing of "shock and awe" here. There is only a quiet groundswell of beauty bound into every breath, love crafted into every blink of the eye.

This story exemplifies everything being a warrior is, and everything being the mate of a soldier entails. I defy you to find flaws with it, whether they are there or not. You'll surely be simply drawn in, as I was, and end by loving this story unabashedly.

Happy reading.

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