One trend in urban fantasy is that of Guardians, whether in name or in deed, who protect the vast majority of us poor, ignorant rubes from the fact that magic is real, and so is a great deal of other stuff that might just blow our minds. Magic in these books takes on many forms, as dictated by the whims and preferences of the author. The Guardians, by Lynn Abbey, is just one of many ways to approach the subject.
The Guardians sees Annalise Brown (but please, call her Lise) hunting for an apartment and she happens upon 647 Riverside Drive in New York City. The previous inhabitant died on Halloween, during a police raid on what the neighbors believed to be an orgy or some sort of drug cult. In the ten days since then, a number of people have looked at the place, but claimed it had “bad vibes” and could not be convinced to rent for love of money or anything else.
There’s nothing really wrong with the place of course. Just a nigh-literal portal to Hell in the living room. Oh, and whoever moves in is pretty much going to be the new High Priest or Priestess of the coven responsible for sealing said Rift shut. Every year. On Samhain.
Lise, of course, is a nonbeliever. She’s the standard American who isn’t particularly religious in one way or another, though her family nominally celebrates the major Christian holidays like you do. She can believe that there is Something Wrong in her living room, because she really doesn’t have a choice in the matter, but the book is about her journey to understand what the Rift is and to accept that not only must she understand Wicca but lead her own coven to seal the damned thing.
This book was published back in 1982, some thirty-five years ago, and while much of the world is unchanged since then, there were some things that stood out to me. Particularly the separation of black and white people. It’s not segregation, but it seems that either there wasn’t nearly as much attempt for racial equality in fiction portrayals or that people tended to segregate themselves moreso then. That white groups didn’t really hire blacks, and that blacks tended to patronize their own instead of resorting to whites. It’s not something I really want to bring up or emphasize, but the way that black and white are mentioned in the book tends to send off alerts in my mind as I read.
I can’t simply ignore it either, since one of the mysterious figures is Baron Samedi himself. He is portrayed as a mysterious and elegant black gentleman who carries a walking cane topped with a red-eyed skull. He seems to be a loa that takes over and uses the bodies of mortals, though it’s never clear if he can choose anyone he pleases and reshape them to his purposes or if he must choose from amongst his followers or something else like that. If I remember correctly, by the by, a loa is one of the good voodoun spirits, but please don’t take my word for it. I don’t read a huge number of books concerning voodoun and am no expert.
It’s been a long time since I last read The Guardians, and I believe this is the first time I’ve revisited the novel. It’s…a lot more bizarre than I remember it. I remembered the basic concept well enough and even some lines almost word-for-word. But some of the events (or Phenomena as Lise refers to them) are just…not at all what I recall. Did I block them out? Did I read too fast last time? Did I just…overlook them because some are kind of uncomfortable to read? I honestly couldn’t tell you, as I’m pretty sure it’s been a decade since I last read the book.
Would I recommend The Guardians to someone? Well…maybe. I mean, there are so many worse books out there to read. And it’s got some interesting ideas that I don’t see showing up too much. But it is somewhat dated and the weird racist undertones emphasize that age. It is not a great book. I’m not sure it’s a good book. But it’s certainly an acceptable book and one I’ll continue to keep.