The Guardian by Mary Calmes
Jude Shea’s life is turned upside down when he rescues a dog he names Joe. Even though Jude has enough trouble taking care of himself—he doesn’t even have a job—he can’t resist the animal that needs him. Then one night, a man shows up on his doorstep looking to claim Jude’s new companion. As they run from a surprise attack, Jude finds out that “Joe” is not what he seems.
Eoin Thral is a guardian from an alternate dimension, and once he leads Jude through the veil that separates their worlds, he transforms into a handsome hulk of a man known for his fighting skills, not the capacity for love. Jude finds himself immersed in Eoin’s world, and he’s faced with the fight of his life to secure a happy future for them both.
I wanted The Guardian since I’d read Calmes’ Change of Heart and enjoyed it as a guilty pleasure read. I figured the writing may not be perfect and likely there could be slight problems with the book but there is something really engaging and entertaining about the author’s writing that I just wanted to read this anyway. The same positive qualities start The Guardian well with a warm and funny start only to go horribly awry with an ill-conceived and executed time travel portion and characters that completely alter their personalities. While The Guardian does have some cute moments, most notably the portions of the book set in modern times, it also suffers from classic mistakes and themes seen in old Harlequinesque romances (and not the good ones).
The story starts out well with the hero Jude finding a stray dog. Now immediately there is a suspension of disbelief required as Jude ventures out in the heart of Chicago at 3 am in chilly temperatures to take a walk, totally unconcerned that he may be hurt, attacked, or worse. Further stretching your mind is that Jude breaks up what he thinks is a pack of wild dogs attacking another. Yet he doesn’t pick up a stick or weapon, he merely calls out and stands his ground as they charge. Oy. Well thankfully some pimp type folks with a gun and diamond studded tooth help Jude and he’s off to the vet with his new dog. This is a stretch but one that can be overlooked since Jude is pretty cute as an overwhelmed young man that just wanted to do a good deed and ends up with a huge dog and expensive vet bill.
The rest of the first half spends time setting up just how fabulous Jude is. Although he recently lost his home, boyfriend, and job when he found his boyfriend sleeping with his boss, he still has a bunch of great friend and a new dog to cheer him up. He’s perfect in everyway; beautiful, intelligent, kind, witty, sexy, and has no clue about his affect on others. The third person point of view switches paragraph to paragraph from Jude to others simply to show how they all adore Jude and think he’s fabulous. Supposedly Jude is brilliant but difficult to work with, although you wouldn’t know it since his co-workers and clients all threatened to leave the public relations agency unless Jude came back. We’re never shown that Jude is egotistical and impossible to work with since Jude doesn’t actually work in the book except a brief mention at the end. Instead he’s re-hired, given a substantial raise, and immediately allowed a lengthy vacation to recover from the horror of quitting. So you understand early on that Jude is perfect, everyone loves him – in fact there is not a single person in the entire book that ever says a bad word about Jude – and he’s given up on finding the perfect boyfriend.
Although it’s somewhat annoying at how perfect Jude is at absolutely everything, he’s still cute and charming and the affectionate dog in “Joe” helps carry the beginning scenes with interest. Unfortunately this all changes when the bad guys come for the dog and Jude is thrown through the “veil.” Now the dog is actually a guardian named Eoin and they’re in medieval times. Here Eoin decides he owns Jude and proceeds to tie him up, issue several contradictory demands, and then screw Jude until he can’t sit straight with a huge, unlubed cock. Instead of being somewhat concerned Jude is totally into the sex because it’s a dream and well he can just tell that Eoin really, truly loves him. The rest of the time in this century is spent with Eoin and Jude proclaiming their instant love for each other while a war is going on.
I’m not sure what the purpose of adding this section is since there is almost zero descriptive quality. Everything is massive, huge, and large. These terms are used so often the language and prose becomes redundant and flat. There is almost no explanation about the veil other than it’s a portal. There is no surprise or concern in any characters about Jude’s appearance, in fact each person introduced is interchangeable with the next offering little to no discerning elements. They all blend together into a mass of acceptance and happiness for Eoin and Jude. Never mind that Eoin has never been with a man before, they don’t care and everyone’s happy. The time frame depicted is weakly described and mostly shown through stilted dialogue and repetitive phrasing. There are a few ridiculous elements such as everyone awed by Jude’s brown eyes since they’ve never seen that shade before, the number of men that fall in love with Jude due to his dynamic personality, and the instant deep, absolute, and binding love Jude and Eoin feel based on.. good sex I think.
Similarly Eoin is at best a two dimensional character. He is funny as the dog but as a human, he’s dominating, insecure, and speaks in redundant, short statements such as “you belong to me Jude Shea.” He and Jude have sex all the time yet Eoin is obsessed with Jude telling him they’re in love just hours after they’ve met. Eoin is by turns deeply needing reassurance to a sex starved man with instant knowledge of gay sex to a dominating overbearing man that places Jude neatly into the little woman box. He contradicts himself in saying that he can’t remain a warrior since his concern and life is all about Jude now and yet needs to leave Jude so he can be a warrior again. These contradictions continue for the length of the book until the end when Eoin is suddenly now beloved by all, has a stunning career, and is perfect as well.
The characterization and weak plot which includes random scenes with no real purpose isn’t book throwing, merely eye rolling. Jude turns into a little wife Eoin wants, content to be left out any discussions and waiting for his man to come home. Just hours after meeting he’s planning on cooking for the man, buying his groceries, setting up a home, getting married, and having lots of endless sex. This is shown in the lengthy ending that is nothing but one sex scene after another showing how much they’re in love but without any additional context. There seems to be no emotional connection yet they both know how absolute their love is. I didn’t buy into this instant romance nor the ever lasting love since it is all one sex scene after another with internal thoughts of how in love they are. This type of telling typifies the story itself and how rarely the narrative ever shows anything, preferring to state everything as fact.
Beyond these issues the writing has some problems with left out words and weak editing. There are scenes and characters included that don’t enhance the story and too many sex scenes. The abrupt changes to Jude and Eoin’s personalities make both men difficult to like and understand. The time travel aspect could have been interesting yet the lack of tension and conflict combined with little to no explanation and description reduces this section greatly. There is no question that both men will leave and return to modern times, this is stated very early on, so the entire time feels immaterial and unimportant.
While I didn’t hate The Guardian, it feels silly, ridiculous, and poorly written. I still like the author’s inherent charm infused into her leading men so with some tight editing, focused plots, and less over the top exaggeration, the stories could really shine. I think readers will respond to flawed characters much better than paragons of perfection and sex. So I’d recommend even fans of the author skip this one and wait for the next, let’s hope for a contemporary.
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