Book Review: Sanctuary
Written by V. V. James
Published by Gollancz
Publication date: 8th August 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
Four women with a secret.
The death that will unravel their lives.
The small town of Sanctuary is rocked by the death of its star quarterback. Daniel’s death looked like an accident, but everyone knows his ex-girlfriend Harper is the daughter of a witch – and she was there when he died.
Then the rumours start. When Harper insists Dan was guilty of a terrible act, the town turns on her. So was his death an accident, revenge – or something even darker?
As accusations fly and secrets are revealed, paranoia grips the town, culminating in a trial that the whole world is watching…
Our moms were drinking champagne when Daniel died. Sipping on bubbles as Beatriz screamed outside the burning party house and I was loaded into an ambulance.
Just before the first fire truck roared past where they sat, the four of them raised a toast, Mom told me. They lifted their glasses and drank to our futures. They congratulated themselves that despite us kids having our ‘differences’– and the four of them having ‘differences’, too – we’d come through everything. The bad days were behind us, and our friendships and theirs were stronger than ever. Lies, lies, lies. And they all knew it.
First impressions: I had to get my hands on this as soon as I heard about it! I adore everything that Vic James has written so far (the fantastic Dark Gifts series – see my review of the first book, Gilded Cage, here) so I was excited to see what she would write next. When I heard that it would involve witches, one of my favourite topics in books, I was even more excited. When it appeared on Netgalley I clicked request and checked my e-mail every day until I got the approval request!
I was hooked from the start and found myself switching loyalties throughout the book as motives are revealed and concealed, lies are uncovered and the tangled web of relationships is gradually shown to be even more complex that you could ever imagine.
This was originally supposed to be posted on publication day to help support the launch of the book, but some unexpected news leading to a short hiatus meant that I didn’t manage to get this up on time. Oh well – better late than never I hope! I have seen lots of people shouting about this online and the author was even interviewed on Radio 4 recently – you can listen to the catch-up interview here.
I wanted to read this because of the author and the fact that witchcraft was mentioned, but this book is so much more than the summary promises. At its heart, this book examines human psychology and how we all want to do the right thing for ourselves and our loved ones, yet how small decisions and lies can snowball into something much larger. Taken at face value, it is possible to empathise with almost each and every character, as they each do what they think is best – some making selfish decisions in the hope that they will never be uncovered while others feel pressured by those around them to make decisions which are questionable. T shows how easy it is to become tangled in a web of lies, how easy it is to believe something when others are manipulating you and how conflicting loyalties can destroy families and friendships. Complicated enough, without the fact that magic is involved too!
And the magic in Sanctuary is not just the stuff of crystals and incense, but also magic with real power to change behaviour and have ripple effects which spread outwards changing all those they touch. I loved how the modern day witch hunt begins and spirals into a frenzy that spreads like wildfire, drawing parallels with persecution against witches in the past and pointing out how easily people can be turned against what they fear and don’t fully understand.
This is a story in which nobody is quite as they seem, yet all are convinced that there is no other possible way they could be. I dare you to try to figure out who (if anyone) is really telling the truth!
Time heals all things. But when there isn’t time, witchcraft will do.
I lift three tinted glass jars from the shelves, before picking a few things fresh in the yard. That done, I take my time selecting the best chart for my purpose. The one I settle on is old and fragile, so I slip it carefully from the shallow drawer of my plan chest, and carry it to the oak ritual-table that belonged to my grandmother. I unroll the felt topper and place little brass weights on each corner of the chart to keep it flat.
As I lose myself in preparation, I feel my neck and shoulders unknot, my spirit relax for the first time since that terrible night at Bridget’s. I measure valerian root into the weighing scales then flatten it with the side of my silver knife. Aira twines around my ankles, mewing. She knows that I’m at work. The rhythms of it are ancient. The Veteris Opus they called it in renaissance times: the Old Work.
And stopped hungering for witch-rites. Barely.
Folk had hardly done persecuting us, when the Revolutionary War put us back in business. Generals needed cannonballs to fly straight, soldiers were desperate for lucky amulets, and sweethearts begged charms for faithfulness. The Civil War was just the same. Vietnam too, my Gramma told me. War is good business for witches. Heartbreak is, too.
What I liked: How three-dimensional and complicated every single character is – nobody is quite who you think they are at first! I loved how the different layers of their relationships are revealed, gradually building up a very very complicated picture. I honestly had no idea where this was going at times and it really kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. I also liked how witchcraft was included, initially as something quite harmless and new-agey, but step-by-step revealing real power and depth.
Even better if: The ending was a little rushed, so I would have liked a little more time spent on how things get resolved…however my imagination has been able to fill in most of the gaps!
How you could use it in your classroom: This is a book dealing with lots of issues, including some very dark and complex ones such as marriage breakdown, abuse and the lengths people will go to in order to cover up mistakes and keep things going well. As with all books, I would recommend reading it yourself before recommending it to any others. While Dr Victoria James’ first series, The Dark Gifts, has a lot of cross-over with young-adult fiction, Sanctuary is very much an adult novel. It would be a great study text for an adult creative writing course though!
What did other people think?
The Independent said:
Neelam @ The Tsundoku Chroicles said:
“I really loved this book, and if you love dark suspenseful stories then you will love this. The story is captivating and will keep you reading late into the night.”
Laura @ Confessions of a Bookaholic said:
“I thought that James did a really good job of highlighting how society is often prejudiced against certain groups, and how quickly that can escalate into something terrible.”
The blogger @ Books and Bobs said:
“The novel is carefully plotted, revealing just the right amount of information mixed with doubt to keep the reader gripped until the very end. The story is a great exploration of family, friendships, types of guilt and justice, and how good intentions can have tragic consequences.”
Olivia @Books in Blankets said:
“My reading experience went like this: I swallowed Sanctuary whole. Just like that. I couldn’t put it down. It’s gripping from the very first page. Just like with Big Little Lies, I had to know what happens next, and I did not stop until the very end.
And the author got me as well. I thought I’d figured it all out. The secret, the culprit, the motive and for one hot minute I felt incredibly smug, but of course, I was wrong.”
While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of Tangleweed and Brine, Perfectly Preventable Deaths, Gilded Cage, I Wore My Blackest Hair, The Burning, The Wise and the Wicked, Spinning Silver, The Toy Makers or Straw into Gold?
Thanks for reading!