Guarded by Stone started off as a great paranormal romance. The main characters pass each other every day in the park and their relationship grows from looks, to smiles, to greetings. The novella opens with heroine Jemma planning to move on to actual extended conversation when she is assaulted in the park by a man short in stature but huge in strength. She is saved by our hero, who whisks her home and informs her that her attacker wasn't a man; it was a female chimera, a mythological creature with the face of a lion, mid-section of a goat, behind of a dragon, and snake for a tail. I haven’t read about such a character before so I was automatically interested.
Even more interesting is the fact that our hero, Mason, is a guardian gargoyle – pardon me, a grotesque – who turns to stone during the day but appears as a man after sunset in order to protect his section of Sydney. Everything – the sweet romance, the rare creatures – was set up for me to be entertained.
Unfortunately, no more than two chapters in, I realized that Jemma was one of those solitary heroines; the weird ones with no family, no friends, and worse, no desire for companionship other than from a man. So the story balances two unique characters - a grotesque for a hero and a female mythological creature as the villain – against an awful stock romance character, the unbelievable heroine who is sad and alone before being fulfilled by the hero's attention, and penis. Unfortunately, the scant 75 pages of this story are chock full of pathetic female: "She’d thought about starting her own blog several times, but so far hadn’t decided whether it was a good idea or not. She wasn’t the most exciting person in the world to read about. Her life was simple: work, eat, and sleep [...] Mostly, she chose to stay away from people."
Sometimes the pathetic female also turns stupid. When she asks Mason what he is if not human, and he quite high-handedly says “You’ll find out soon enough, I promise”, all Jemma can manage to do is nod with her gaze “fixed on his”. I started to wonder whether grotesques had mind control powers because to so easily trust a man – who is not really a man at all – with your life, without demanding to know such an important detail, is mindless. Another example of her weird and unexplained behavior comes when Mason tries to persuade her that she’s stronger than she gives herself credit for and she thinks: "...until the attack in Hyde Park, she’d virtually been fearless to wander the city streets on her own at any time of day or night. She wasn’t stupid, knew there were predators everywhere, but had felt confident enough to think she could handle herself in a confrontation."
At that point I’d thought Jemma was hiding some sort of latent paranormal power, but she isn’t. She’s your below-average Jane who just happens to think she can handle herself in dark parks late at night. Hmm.
Sfetsos tells the beginning of a good story in Guarded by Stone, and I'm not averse to reading a more full length example of her writing. But it would have to be one without pathetic, desperate, stupid Jemma.
-- Abi Bishop
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