Thursday, November 10, 2016

Guardian Angel by Hayden Thorne


Summary:
When nineteen-year-old Dominic Coville’s parents die in an accident, leaving him not only alone but on the brink of poverty, he desperately searches for work and is thrilled when the post of secretary is awarded to him despite his obvious inexperience and ignorance. Mr. Wynyard Knight of Mandrake Abbey, however, gladly welcomes Dominic and earns the young man’s immediate sympathy for his fragile health as well as gratitude for the promising new life now awaiting Dominic.

"Inside rock and timber, hungry shadows seek..."

But unusual things soon happen and appear to focus solely on him, and Dominic begins to wonder about the true history of Mr. Knight, the strange young man haunting the third floor, and Mandrake Abbey. With the persistent and increasingly violent attempts at communication by an angry ghost shadowing his hours, Dominic struggles to unravel the mysteries of his new home. And even with the help of a handsome young gentleman who’s an aspiring supernaturalist as well as his clairvoyant sister, danger closes in far too quickly.

Then it’s only a matter of time before carefully constructed facades fall away, and the sickly, decaying underbelly of Mandrake Abbey’s centuries-old collection of stone and timber will reveal itself.

Set in an alternate England sometime before the mid-19th century, 'Guardian Angel' weaves a tangled and dark tapestry of old magic, romance, and madness, a celebration of classic gothic fiction and its macabre sensibilities.


Holy Hannah Batman! I thought the author's Flowers of St. Aloysius was creepy and hair-raising but Guardian Angel is way creepier and fear inducing and don't even get me started on adrenaline pumping. Dominic Colville is a character that could easily be anyone of us, as a 24/7 caregiver myself, the idea that your charge or others in the household are not exactly who you thought can put fear in your heart faster than flipping to the next page.  Throw in some ghostly behavior and the handsome stranger, Edgar, and what Guardian Angel brings you is an incredible gothic journey into the mysterious world of the paranormal in a timeline where magic is the norm.  Before the mystery is solved, you might even find yourself questioning your own sanity when those bumps in the night that you often credit to the wind or the house settling, suddenly don't seem as easy to explain.  The author has created a world that will satisfy your love of paranormal, mystery, love, and especially tweak your thirst for the "what ifs" and "was its".

RATING: 


“Ah. I see.” He paused, narrowing his eyes at me in that exaggerated way I’d seen Edgar do whenever he teased me. “Something recent, I think. Something to do with your visit with your friend a few days ago? No, no, the blush is enough to satisfy an old gossip’s curiosity.” He grinned now, eyes sparkling. “Well, I’m very pleased to know you’re now collecting happy memories during your tenure here, Mr. Coville. I’d like to think they help alleviate the tedium of keeping someone like me company—or even the dreariness of living in a place like Mandrake Abbey and its endless secrets and ghosts.”

“Oh, but I don’t find you or the abbey tedious or dreary, sir…”

“What’s your friend’s name, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Do you wish to meet him, sir?” I asked, surprised.

Mr. Knight’s smile made the air feel icy all of a sudden when I hesitated and allowed a nervous pause to draw itself out. “Dominic, what’s the gentleman’s name?”

“Mr. Knight, sir! May we have a word, please?” a man’s voice cut through the momentary silence that had fallen on our conversation.

With this the spell broke, and the hard edge that had suddenly surfaced vanished, and Mr. Knight was once again the pleasant old gentleman I’d always known. He looked around and saw one of the workmen trudging over the grass toward the elm. The big, burly shape looked almost out of place against the backdrop of the timeless abbey, and while some with more refined tastes would call him an eyesore, I was awash with relief with his sudden appearance.

“Yes, Smithers?”

“Sir, there’s a growing crack in the abbey’s foundation,” Mr. Smithers replied, a little out of breath. He barely acknowledged me with a slight nod as he stopped.

Mr. Knight hesitated. Again, I sensed something simmering below the genial surface of the man. “I’m rather occupied at the moment. Has Mr. Carradine seen it? I’ve given him authority to—”

The frantic beating of wings tore our attention away from Mr. Smithers, and I glanced around to find a raven flying past the elm in a rush of black feathers. Once it vanished from view, it cawed, tearing the general calm with its shrill cries. The unexpected disturbance rattled me, and I’d shied violently away at the sudden movement and especially the creature’s harsh calls.

“Good lord,” I breathed, making a face as I stared at the point beyond the elm’s leaves, where the raven had vanished. I’d also heard Mr. Smithers utter a low curse as he, too, was startled by the bird.

“A crack, you say? Let me look at it.” With a grunt, Mr. Knight stumbled to his feet, waving away any offer of help from either me or Mr. Smithers.

He did ask for his cane, which I quickly handed to him. Oddly enough, when before he was quite annoyed at being disturbed, he now seemed keen to remove himself from the area. And when he walked over to where Mr. Smithers stood, his pace was quick and smooth, his usual slow and almost laborious gait diminished greatly.

Before long the two men were walking back to the abbey, lost in conversation. I frowned as I watched them go, wondering why Mr. Knight was in such a mood that morning. In the end, though, all I could do was chastise myself for pushing him so much over my new sleeping and bathing arrangements.

Once they’d vanished from view, I decided to stay there for a little longer to enjoy the calm and the glorious weather and to revel once more in thoughts of Edgar.

I didn’t know how long I’d spent lost in pleasant memories, but soft, furtive movements nearby drew me back to the present. The raven had returned, it seemed, and I didn’t even notice it fly back and land just a few feet away. It hopped on the grass, pausing now and then to look at me with those bead-like eyes whose depths hinted at an unnerving kind of awareness and intelligence.

“Good morning to you, too,” I piped up, bemused. I dared not move for fear of scaring the little creature away. “It’s awfully rude of you, by the way, to frighten us half to death with your wild movements and noise.”

I smiled at it as it hopped even closer, staring hard at me as it paused now and then. When it was only about a handful of inches away from the edge of the blanket closest to me, it stopped. Only then did I notice the raven looking different—off, even. It was definitely a raven, but its feathers were a dulled black, and they looked coarse and unhealthy. The bird’s eyes had a film over them, making them look milky. The beak was rough in appearance as though it was somehow losing its natural—dare I say healthy—qualities. It even looked somewhat misshapen.

“Mr. Dominic Coville must take care,” it squawked. “Inside rock and timber, hungry shadows seek.”

My smile faded. The raven fell silent, still regarding me with inhuman intensity. Then with another shrill cry it beat its wings, and it—exploded. One large black bird suddenly burst into hundreds—no, thousands—of loud, buzzing flies that flew everywhere, spreading out and immediately disappearing, their horrible noise fading in the distance. I’d let out a small yelp of surprise and disgust, curling myself in a ball when I thought I was about to be overwhelmed by a host of those dreadful insects, but nothing came of it. The flies dispersed in the opposite direction away from the elm.

Within seconds all I could hear were my rapid, irregular breaths as I slowly calmed down. I dropped my arms from where I’d bent them above my head protectively, and I cautiously looked around, bug-eyed and drop-jawed. No, all was glorious and peaceful once again, and there was nothing anywhere that I’d just had a singularly terrifying meeting with a cursed raven—if, in fact, that creature that had warned me was a raven. I simply didn’t know.

I scrambled to my feet and ran out, almost getting myself tangled with the blanket in my haste. I looked at the sky and the surrounding countryside for signs of the swarm. Here and there, I thought I spotted dark dots flickering in their rapid flight. I was also growing aware of a lingering stench, and once I’d fixed my mind on it, the stronger and more horrible it smelled.

I grimaced. “What is that?” I whispered. “Something dead?”

I couldn’t tell, but it certainly made me think of death and even decay, which then made me think about an animal’s carcass in the process of rotting away. And yet not quite—somehow, the stink seemed a little different from what I’d grown to know as a dead animal’s. How did a decomposing human body smell? I shuddered, disgusted and also glad I didn’t know the answer to it. The smell seemed to soak the air around the elm, though, and with no breeze dissipating the stench, I was forced to hurry back in the tree’s shadows and snatch the blanket before staggering away.

I’d held my breath the whole time I jogged over the grass toward the abbey and allowed my strained lungs some valuable air again once I deemed it safe to inhale. The air was clear where I’d stopped, and I sighed in relief.

I settled my nerves there by carefully folding the blanket and thinking over the bird’s strange words. A warning? Yes, it was a warning, but it was, unsurprisingly, cryptic. Hungry shadows inside rock and timber? And they seek? Seek what? And what on earth were those shadows all about?

I stared at the abbey and its imposing façade. Ghosts? Did the cursed raven mean ghosts? Mr. Knight had referred to ghosts off-hand, even unthinkingly, over breakfast, but I’d never really thought much about it, convinced he was saying nothing more than something metaphorical in some way. Ghosts of the past had been my initial impression, but now—was he referring to something more literal? Mandrake Abbey was haunted?

I took a deep breath and hurried inside.

Author Bio:
I've lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats, am a cycling nut (go Garmin!), and my day job involves artwork, crazy (read: incomprehensibly fun) coworkers who specialize in all kinds of media, and the occasional strange customer requests involving papier mache fish with sparkly scales.

I’m a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books range from a superhero fantasy series to reworked folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. My themes are coming-of-age, with very little focus on romance (most of the time) and more on individual growth with some adventure thrown in.


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