January 16, 2012
Aviva Publishing (2011)
New Fantasy Novel Draws on Creation Myths for a Compelling Adventure
From the moment I began reading Tara Casalino’s “The Guardians,” I was drawn in by the characters, the story, the mystery, and the magic of the fantasy world this first-time author has created. The story begins in an inn where Rafe and his companions await an earl who has hired them to get to the bottom of a mystery. Rafe and his friends, unbeknownst to those around them, are Guardians, humans chosen to have special skills and powers to protect the world. But when the earl enters the inn with a mysterious woman named Ashera, Rafe realizes the game is about to change because Ashera can sense right away that they are more than human, and they equally realize she is more—perhaps part of the Griffin race, believed extinct until now.
The Guardians’ origins, and the mysterious origin of Ashera, which even she cannot explain, take the reader back in time to the very beginnings of Casalino’s fantasy world as the story of its creation and how dark forces entered the world are told, and within that story lie the seeds for the evil the Guardians are now called upon to fight.
I do not want to give away the story; it’s sufficient to say that “The Guardians” has in it everything that a great fantasy story requires, from beings with supernatural powers, to unicorns and dragons, a sinister and powerful dark force, and a well-paced narrative told by the main character Rafe. The first-person voice is engaging, calm, and provides assurance to the reader through a mysterious and at times dangerous quest to defeat the powers of evil. And since Ashera is my favorite character, Rafe’s descriptions and interactions with her constantly kept my attention. Here is Casalino’s description of Ashera, through Rafe’s eyes in the opening chapter following an attack at the inn:
The four men faced her again, weapons in hand, and as one, charged. Mouth agape, I watched as she simply flowed out of the way, drawing her swords in one smooth, fluid motion by simply pulling her hands back down to her sides. It happened too quickly for me to see how she had done it.
As she flowed through the shafts of sunlight, she seemed to glow. The sun built an aura around her; the specks of dust, kicked up by her movements, sparkled and glittered. Time slowed and stopped on an image of her, two swords extended, face in shadow, yellow light surrounding her. In that frozen moment, her shadow on the floor looked like she had wings extended in flight, and I was convinced she was meant to join us.
Time resumed, and what happened next was even faster. She spun and twirled, taking one man out with a kick to the knee, another with a hit to the head, and forcing the last two to freeze with the point of a sword under their chins. They quickly dropped their weapons, at which point the inn guard moved in, collected all the weapons, got a couple of the patrons to grab the men, sent a boy off for the city watch, and took the men outside. It had taken her less than a minute to disarm four men without seriously hurting any of them.
I don’t think any male reader can dislike a female kick-ass warrior, and in my opinion, Ashera can put Xena to shame. Furthermore, Casalino does a masterful job of slowly revealing Ashera’s mysterious origins to the other characters—and to the reader, so she is not a stereotypical female warrior but a well-rounded character who questions herself and who she is while being devoted to her role of protecting the earl.
At the heart of “The Guardians” is the psychological journey, including how giving into fear can lead to evil, and how overcoming inner fears can lead to victory. Casalino does an excellent job of exploring human weaknesses and those of even more advanced beings. She also draws upon world mythology—Judeo-Christian, Greek, and other cultures—to create universal themes with which all readers can identify.
“The Guardians” filled the void for me when “Legend of the Seeker” was cancelled on T.V. Casalino’s fantasy world resonates with questions of loyalty, friendship, creativity, beauty, love—all those aspects of the human condition we struggle with. To read “The Guardians” is to go on a hero quest and return home with a new understanding of how to live in the everyday world. I highly recommend it for an enjoyable, fast-paced adventure. Its visual scenes make me believe it would make a great movie, and I hope Casalino will write several more books, including more novels set in this fantastic world she has created in “The Guardians.”
For more information about Tara Casalino and “The Guardians,” visit www.TaraCasalino.com.
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and author of “King Arthur’s Children”