The Guardians is an exciting, creepy small town horror story that, literally, kept me up all night. For some reason, I decided to read it late at night. I planned to read a few chapters, go to sleep and pick it up again the next evening. I ended up reading probably half the book that night, because I just kept wanting to find out what happened next. It was also past midnight, with the only sound being the wind outside my window, and part of me also really wanted to stop reading, because I didn’t want to get nightmares. The minute I got to a pause in the action, I put the book down before I could get hooked on the next chapter. It’s an absolutely engrossing read, and while it may keep you awake at night, I think reading it late at night is probably the best way to enjoy it. Bonus if you also have an empty house just outside your window.
The Guardians is about a group of boys who grew up together in a small town with an empty house locals believe to be haunted. Something happens in that house, a terrible secret the boys vow to keep. They grow up, and all move away, except for one who appoints himself “guardian” of the house, keeping his neighbours away until he eventually commits suicide. This suicide leads to the group of childhood friends going back to the small town, and delving into memories of their childhood and investigating the story behind the house. Andrew Pyper intersperses the narrative with flashbacks into their childhood, so that we learn about their childhood secret as we’re watching them deal with the house as adults. This of course makes the story much more engaging, with me eagerly following both narrative threads to find out how they end.
There are times when, as a reader, I felt manipulated. For example, the narrator Trevor has Parkinson’s disease, which felt unnecessarily dramatic, like an element introduced just to ratchet up the tension. Or a chapter would end in a cliff hanger, and I know that I’d have to get through either a flashback or a present-day scene first before finding out how the cliff hanger is resolved. Ordinarily, feeling manipulated would keep me from being completely involved in the story. Thing is, and kudos to Pyper for this, The Guardians is just so engrossing, I didn’t care that I was being manipulated. It’s like being on a roller coaster – you know they put the big loops in to scare you, but they do make the ride so much more thrilling. Plus, every element in the story is eventually revealed to be essential. Even Trevor’s Parkinson’s plays a part in a climactic scene.
What ultimately makes The Guardians work, I think, is that Pyper draws on elements that are familiar to all of us. We all had a creepy house in our neighbourhood – or at least encountered one sometime in our childhood. We all have a group of childhood friends who share a secret with us that perhaps our current friends know nothing about, and yet that still colour our lives. The flashback scenes especially capture the flavour of childhood – the dialogue, the descriptions all take me back to a time when I still believed in haunted houses. Reading Guardians, I was transported back to childhood, to ghost stories I heard back then, and to the thrill I’d thought I’d outgrown.