Hi and welcome to my review of Sanctuary, a book that I requested on a whim, an urban fantasy / thriller that broke me in a million pieces and will definitely end up on my list of fave books this year.
Sanctuary, Connecticut, the typical East Coast small town where everyone knows everyone and their dog. Nothing special, one would think. Except that Sanctuary has a resident witch, Sarah Fenn. This is not a secret at all: witches are established all over the US, their craft acknowledged, and happily made good use of. The witch in question has a coven: Abigail, Julia, Bridget, three friends without magic who give her strength, who feed her power. The problems start when Abigail’s son Dan has a nasty fall and dies at a party and his best friend points the finger at Harper, Sarah’s daughter, saying she did an incantation, making him fall, exacting vengeance because of the sex tape he made of them. Rumours fly, Sanctuary is rife with suspicion and starts coming apart at the seams. The coven falls apart: Abigail wants her son back and if threatening Harper is the only way to Dan then she’ll gladly take things a step or two too far. The town falls apart: people are shocked that their star quarterback is dead, they’re looking for a scapegoat and who better than the daughter of a witch, even though Harper hasn’t inherited her mother’s powers. Maggie, a detective from outside Sanctuary, tries to sort out this whole hot mess, but who can she trust in this little town full of secrets? Did Dan stumble and fall, or was he murdered, and if so, by whom? And then other people start getting sick. Mass hysteria, a witch’s revenge, or are there other, far more mundane, powers at work?
Sanctuary put a spell on me from the very first page. Everything I’d hoped to find in The Furies but didn’t, I found in the pages of Sanctuary.
I love the urban fantasy side to it, the fact that everything is as we know it (up to and including a BS tweeting president), except there are witches.
I love how the witches and their craft are depicted, very down-to-earth, and the whole world-building behind it. The author has created a whole history, a culture, a magical system, and woven them flawlessly into life and history as we know them, like how capital punishment was abolished in Connecticut in 2012, except for witches who kill by means of witchcraft. All that makes it very realistic, especially when you’re from another part of the world. With very little effort I could imagine there being actual witches in the US.
What got to me most was the witch hunt, literally and figuratively, that ensued from Dan’s death. The way people reacted to the Fenns, blaming them, calling them names, defiling their home, threatening them, wishing them to burn, Harper is ducked in a fountain at school “to test whether or not it’s true that she doesn’t have magic”. In a blink of an eye, the Dark Ages are back and people are ready to burn the witches at the stake. There is just so much hatred there and it made me so incredibly sad. Not like I was bawling out my eyes at every turn of a page, but like this heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach because it just could not digest that much hatred, that degree of vileness that mob mentality seems to bring out in people when fear of the unknown and ignorance turn to rage. Again, it was so realistic. It’s what made people turn against their Jewish neighbours and friends in WWII, it’s what generates gay-bashing and racism and sexism and all the other -isms and it hurt me and it scared me but it’s what makes Sanctuary one helluva lot more than a run-of-the-mill urban fantasy.
Still, there is also a huge amount of love in Sanctuary. The love of mothers willing to do whatever for their kids, the love of good friends, the love of a cop for the people she’s sworn to protect, urging her to do the right thing, even if it might not be the legal thing.
I loved everything about this book. I had to force myself to put it down at night to get some sleep. As a chronically ill and therefore chronically tired person, nothing matters more to me than sleep, but I was extremely tempted to make an exception for this one and I had to tear myself away. (Such a pity that falling asleep at my desk at work is frowned upon by the management ?)
Whether you have an interest in the arcane, or you’re just looking for a great story, take a look at Sanctuary. From the cover to the final paragraph, it’s a hell yaaaasssss golden buzzer from me!
Many thanks to Gollancz (Orion Publishing Group) and NetGalley for the free eARC. All opinions are my own and I was not paid to give them.