Author: Sarah Fine
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: October 16th, 2012
Sanctum is one of those books where you think you know what you're getting into when you start it, but it manages to surprise you at every turn. You see, I had this craazy idea that Sanctum was a paranormal/fantasy story of sorts about this girl who went into a mysterious land to rescue her best friend; I suppose that, from the surface, that is exactly was this book is. Yet, it's also so much more multi-layered, deep, and provocative than I ever imagined a paranormal/fantasy novel to be. It's a story about death, about loss, about grief, and about depression so acute you don't want to live anymore. It's a story about strength, about forgiveness, about getting back up when you think you can't stand up again. It is, at its very core, a story about holding on, about seeing that light at the end of the tunnel and, of course, about hope.
On her first day of school, the last thing Lela expects is to become best friends with Nadia, the most popular girl around. Yet, that is exactly what happens and Nadia's friendship transforms Lela from a hopeless case who has been to one-too-many-foster-homes to a girl with a future. When Nadia unexpectedly kills herself though, entering the Suicide Gates, a place Lela almost went to a few years back, Lela knows she has to rescue her best friend - it's the least she can do after all that Nadia did for her. Thus, quite by accident, Lela finds herself at the Suicide Gates and at the mercy of its Captain of the Guard, Malachi. While the Suicide Gates are a dangerous place, with Malachi, Lela may just have a chance to find her friend...and fall in love too.
Sanctum is a whirlwind journey of adventure, mystery, and dark pasts. Lela is a narrator who took awhile to grow on me, but before long, I was thoroughly invested in her tale. She's stubborn, strong-willed, and has had an extremely painful past, but through it all, she keeps persevering, thus becoming one of the most admirable characters I've come across in literature. Furthermore, the sheer force of her friendship and her conviction that she can rescue her friend is utterly heart-warming, making you wish you had someone like Lela at your back too. Yet, despite all her incredible traits, Lela is a three-dimensional character chock-full of flaws as well and her journey to live past her prior torture and grow into a more trusting individual was remarkably well-written. While her past has shaped who she is in the present, the eventual person she becomes by the end of this story is so different and truly an inspirational figure for those who have suffered at the hands of tormentors or even those who have ever contemplated suicide themselves, like Lela once did.
In all honesty, Sanctum is a very dark tale. It's set in a world where those who have taken their lives are set to roam in the land within the Suicide Gates until they are ready to go before the Judge and enter the Countryside, or Heaven. While Fine's alternate take on the Heaven/Hell scheme is unique and well-built (although I do have to admit that the world-building took a liiiitle while to kick-off), it never becomes preachy or even mentions God at all. In reality, the world she has created is simply a character of its own which emphasizes the devastating repercussions of suicide and that, contrary to popular belief, suicide is not an escape. I was quite surprised by some of the darker turns this novel took, but ultimately, I am in awe of them. Fine explores the horror of this situation both from the side of the person left behind, helpless and lost about what to do, and the person who committed the act themselves. It's a delicate balance she strikes and this can only be seen during the last few chapters of this novel, but I'm glad it was present and I'm also glad it was only there for a short duration of time - it was long enough to make an impact, but not long enough to turn this tale into a dark and brooding story.
I must apologize - I've made you all terrified to pick this up because now you all think it's a gritty story, yes? Well, it isn't. While Sanctum explores some very dark themes for sure and Fine allows us to understand suicide like never before, the dialogue in this novel is sharp and witty, the character relationships and vivid and lively, and Lela's voice is simply so much fun to read. In addition, if you needed more persuasion to pick up this novel, the romance is simply to die for. Malachi is a tortured soul himself, although of a completely different degree than Lela, but instead of this making him an irritatingly stereotypical bad-boy, Malachi is utterly decent, sweet, and one of the kindest people you will meet. Yes, he's deadly with his weapons and can probably kill you before you blink, but only if you get on his bad side. Although I do think that Malachi and Lela's romance moved a little quickly, I still found the pace to be perfect considering their situations. Furthermore, I love that Malachi and Lela, despite being attracted to each other physically, were in love only with who the other person was inside. It was a beautifully written romance that truly struck a cord within me and while I know other readers will find things to pick at, I loved it.
Sanctum truly is one of the most unexpected debuts I've read this year. I hadn't heard of it until very recently and although my expectations for this novel were turned upside down, it was in the best possible way imaginable. I love the world Fine has created, the manner in which it serves as an analogy to the themes in this novel, and the characters in this tale were phenomenal. It wasn't one of those it-blew-me-away stories - I doubt anything could be considering I read The Lost Girl and The Scorpio Races recently - but it was a novel I was thoroughly invested in and came away loving. Would I recommend Sanctum? Hell, yeah! (No pun intended, of course!) ;)
An enormous thank you to Amazon Children's Publishing Group for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.