Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: Sanctum by Sarah Fine

Sanctum by Sarah Fine Sanctum (Guards of the Shadowlands #1)
By Sarah Fine
Amazon Children’s Publishing

To Sum It Up:

Lela Santos has not had an easy life. She’s grown up in a series of foster homes as well as spent time in a juvenile detention center. At last, though, the future seems to be looking up for her; Lela is now in a stable home and planning to attend college with her best friend, Nadia. But Lela’s heart is shattered when Nadia commits suicide, and Lela begins having visions of her friend in a hellish place that is all too familiar to her. Determined to find Nadia, Lela searches for her among an entire city of desolate souls and is willing to sacrifice anything in order to rescue her friend.


I originally borrowed Sanctum from the library, and I’ve never been so sad while returning a library book in my life. I felt like I had separation anxiety or something; this novel was that amazing. I lasted about two days before I broke down and purchased my own copy.

Sanctum is such a stunning debut novel that it’s hard to absorb that it is a debut novel. The original world, the take on heaven/purgatory/hell, the dialogue, and the characters are all outstanding. The characters are especially so. This is a novel with a very dark subject—suicide—yet there’s a strong message of hope in its pages, too. Sarah Fine is also a child psychologist, and I think this really informs her writing. Characters aren’t given tragic pasts just to give them tragic pasts. Their suffering is ingrained in their souls and continuously drives their thinking and actions. I’ve read quite a few books that appear to tackle tough issues, but you don’t always see the long-term effects on the characters. These topics are handled in a superficial, cursory manner in an attempt to add weight to the story and are all forgotten by the time the protagonist achieves a happy ending. Sanctum is an entirely different species. Fine’s characters always remember what they’ve been through, but not in a self-pitying way. You clearly see how they’ve become the people you’re reading about and why they make the decisions they do.

I loved Lela from the start. Unlike some other female protagonists whose tough words aren’t backed up by their actions, Lela is the real deal. Her courage and determination to brave whatever exists beyond the Suicide Gates in order to save her best friend, Nadia, instantly put her on my list of favorite heroines. Lela can also be very stubborn and at times rushes headfirst into situations, but her flaws remind you that she is a human being, capable of vulnerability. She’s such a strong character, yet without appearing too perfect.

The place in which Lela must search for Nadia is a kind of limbo for those who have committed suicide, though it’s not too far removed from hell. Lela has actually glimpsed it before, having once attempted suicide herself. The food here is free, but it’s rotten. Hardly anyone speaks to each other because most of the inhabitants in this city are too wrapped up in their own melancholy to notice one another. The streets are also stalked by the Mazikin, evil spirits that possess human bodies while the human souls go to the Mazikin version of hell, which is infinitely worse. The city’s Guard works tirelessly to eliminate the Mazikin and is captained by one incredible young man named Malachi.

Malachi. Where to begin talking about this lethal warrior whose pure heart made me melt? Malachi is equal parts swoon-inducing and formidable badass. He reminded me a lot of Valek from Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study in that I-Will-Kill-You-with-a-Single-Look kind of way. Like Lela, Malachi has known so much pain in his life; they’ve both persevered, and together, they’re even stronger. I am guilty of one of the very things I loathe in books—Insta-Love—because it was impossible not to fall in love with Malachi at first sight. And if that makes me a hypocrite, well, I’ll iron a capital “H” onto my shirt and wear it proudly.

I loved everything about Sanctum, from the story to the romance to the depth of all of the characters, even the minor ones. I must be turning into a softie in my old age because I felt the urge to cry in a few places, not necessarily because I was reading something sad, but because the writing was so beautiful. This book is stellar, and my puny review can’t even begin to do anything resembling justice to its brilliance.

All in All:

A very big thank you to Katja at YA’s the Word for recommending Sanctum to me. I devoured this book and will absolutely be buying the sequel as soon as it’s available. No traumatic library returns this time!


  1. Awesome review, Lee! I'm so glad you loved it. I fell for Mal instantly too, and the character development was a total hit for me.

    1. The characters were just so wonderfully, and richly, drawn. Thank you again, Katja, for introducing me to this incredible novel!

  2. Oh this sounds extremely compelling to me! I love how intense your emotional connection was to the story & characters. I'd definitely need to prepare myself mentally & emotionally to be in the right mood for something as heavy and substantial but I'm certainly going to check this one out!

    Thanks for the the great review Lee & for bringing this one to my attention :)

    1. I hope you love it (and Malachi) as much as I did, Micheline! The characters are superbly written; it's so easy to become invested in them.

  3. Gosh I feel the same way. I loved everything about this book. AND OH MY GOD THAT ENDING. I seriously finished this book with a big stupid grin on my face. I can definitely see the connection between Malachi and Valek although I compared him to Dimitri from VA. Either way - total swoon worthy. Ah so so good. I might break down and buy this too.

    Nicole @ The Quiet Concert

    1. I wasn't very far into the book before I realized that I needed to buy my own copy. Great comparison between Malachi and Dimitri- Malachi certainly has that outward appearance of calm that belies how lightning fast he can kill someone!

  4. If I didn't want to read this book now, then I most certainly want to. Especially connecting Malachi to Valek who I simply ADORE.

    I've heard very high praise for this book, but now I most certainly want to get my hands on a copy of it. Fabulous review! :)

    1. Sanctum is so, so, so good! As a fellow fan of Valek's, I think you'll be very happy when you meet Malachi!


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