As you may have guessed from the description, The Guardian, A Sword & Stilettos is YA. When I pick up a YA book, I expect a lack of maturity and experience from the protagonist but Zoe takes the cake. The devil is sending demon assassins to kill Zoe and what is she concerned about? Well, finding the perfect prom dress naturally and of course her first kiss. If that were not enough, Zoe keeps bringing up learning to defend herself but somehow never gets around to that, what with all the angst about which of her immortal male love interests to choose from.
Speaking of immortal love interests, I have to say for the record that the idea of an 80 year old Nephilim and an ancient angel in love with and pursuing a 17 year old girl because she is the chosen one is just wrong. First off, both Shay and Kieran have been watching over Zoe since the day of her birth and when she became a teenager, they both suddenly began to feel an attraction to her. Ummm creepy, in fact, super creepy. Zoe does actually call Shay a stalker but still yet continues in her relationship with him because - well - woo woo naturally. Shay causes her to tingle, so the fact that he watched her from the cradle and is actually old enough to at the very least be her grandfather is supposedly no big deal. Had the nature of Zoe's relationship with Shay and the age difference actually been something Zoe actively thought about and tried to negotiate, I could have tolerated it better. Instead, what we got was Zoe angsting about the fact that she has feelings for Shay and not for her best friend. I suppose I should simply be thankful that VanRisseghem didn't drag out the love triangle for too long.
If you can get over the creepy pedophile type feeling of both Shay and Kieran, there's also the issue that they read like teenage boys. Yes, in terms of immortals they are young but neither one of the two should actually sound or feel like they fit in at high school. On their first date, Shay even plays a One Direction song for Zoe. What teenage boy listens to One Direction, let alone a Nephlim who has been alive for eighty years? When Shay was 17, WWII was just starting. How does someone like that relate to One Direction? It's ridiculous and feels like Van Risseghem was just trying to squeeze in some youthful references. Look, teenagers are just as diverse as adults and perhaps Van Risseghem should spend some time with a few to get a better sense of what they are like. Yes, some are going to be obsessed with the latest boy band and prom while others are goal oriented and have real awareness of this world. All in all, much of Van Risseghem's characterisation feels forced, unrealistic and trite.
One of Zoe's guardians is Sidelle, a summer fairy who has been alive since the beginning of time. Pause for a moment and think about how long that is. It's longer than humans have been in existence, yet somehow, Sidelle is invested in Zoe's love life. Why? No, seriously why? I can think of no reason why Sidelle would be so interested in listening to Zoe drone on about how she's just not into Kieran. I can think of no reason why Sidelle would want to dress Zoe up and help arrange a surprise for her first date. I can think of no reason why Sidelle would come running when Zoe needs girl time to figure out her ridiculous boy problems. As a matter of fact, due to the way that Sidelle is written, I do not buy into the idea that she is as old as she is. At best, Sidelle reads like just another teenager.
Being 17, naturally Zoe is in highschool and what is high school without a group of mean girls. Look, like every other adult, I remember how shitty the high school days were but at the same time, the mean girl trio weren't even written like real people. They were card board cut outs with no real motivations for their actions. If that were not enough, the entire school seems to be obsessed with who Zoe is dating, yet we are told that she is not particularly popular. Why are these kids so obsessed with knowing about Zoe's love life? Why do they take up hours of their day talking about her? Don't these kids have the internet? And no, Kieran suddenly being on the market does not cut it as justification for the amount of time they spend gossiping about her.
The Guardian, a Sword & Stilettos is completely erased. There are no people of colour, there are no GLBT people and there are no disabled characters whatsoever. It's a perfect little White, cisgender, able bodied, straight world, with a super chosen one protagonist, who people seem to love for some reason. As a matter of fact, even Stephenie Meyer's Bella (the queen of lip biting and no personality) is more interesting to read about than Zoe. I get that the blank protagonist is a device in order for the reader to be able to imagine themselves as Zoe but I much prefer the author to do the work when I read a book.
I kept waiting for The Guardian, a Sword & Stilettos to actually go somewhere, or for something to happen. We kept being warned about an upcoming war but other than two really short and disappointing battles, nothing happened. The devil is supposedly after Zoe and yet Van Risseghem wrote long drawn out passages about what Shay's wings felt like and how Zoe didn't want to hurt Kieran. The worst part about all of this is that the world building was all tell and no show. I read info dump after info dump and through it all, Zoe barely managed to ask a decent question. There's absolutely no reason to invest in Zoe and consequently, no reason to invest in this story.
The Guardian, a Sword, & Stilettos is a really short novel and yet I struggled to get through it. The last half of the book was particularly painful and loaded with ridiculous texts written to sound like what Van Risseghem believes teenagers sound like. I seriously considered issuing a DNF rating when I found myself looking at my vacuum thinking that running it would be more interesting than finding out what happens to this cast of characters. In 219 pages, Van Risseghem managed to accomplish absolutely nothing. The world building is shoddy and the characterisation does not make any sense whatsoever. I can only be thankful that I read an epub copy of The Guardian, a Sword, & Stilettos, so that no innocent trees lost their life for this drek. It cost me hours of my life that I will never get back, so consider this a warning: pick up this book only if you have intense masochist feelings.
Editors Note: A copy of this book was received from the author in exchange for an honest review.