Thursday, March 19, 2015
Review: Sanctum (Guards of the Shadowlands #1) by Sarah Fine
A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.
As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t—the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.
I’ve had this book on my shelf for years and I thought it would be fun to binge on a trilogy that‘s already complete. Not to mention clearing off my shelf of older books.
Sanctum gets off to a fantastic start. I loved Nadia. She’s a world weary girl toughened by her time in the foster care system. Nadia helps one of the popular girls in school one day and they become unlikely bff’s until death separates them.
I loved everything about Lela and Nadia’s friendship, the cool afterworld setting, dividing the dead between the Suicide Gates and the Countryside. There are evil creatures called the Mazakin that inhabit the zombie like lost souls who have committed suicide and await judgment and guards that try to protect them and eliminate the Mazakin.
There seems to be more going on – maybe angels? God & the Devil? I don’t know for sure. This was more of a set up to the world and characters and I assume it’s all fleshed out in the next two books. Either way – it was a fun start with a YA/Urban Fantasy feel.
However, there were a few things that just took all the joy out of reading this one and I don’t think I’ll be continuing with the series.
~ Lela suffered sexual abuse in the foster care system. I thought this was initially handled SO well but once she goes to the Suicide Gates it seems she is constantly in situations of potential sexual violence or leering thoughts aimed at her. I kind of hate that once a victim – a girl becomes a beacon for that type of attention. Almost every male thinks of her sexually. I do think some of it was necessary for Lela’s character arc (and accurate to the situation around her) – she has to overcome her fears but it made me sick to my stomach after a while to read. It's always aimed at just her.
~ Lela's romance with Malachi was of the insta variety. She’s *special*. Why? No idea. But she’s tougher – stronger – smarter than any other girl apparently even though there’s not much evidence of that. Sure she’s street smart, she’s scrappy, she’s quick to get back on her feet but special above all others? Didn’t see it. But Malachi does…and once he does decades or training and smart thinking fly out the window. Malachi is a nice hero – but generic. This super bad ass guard that strikes fear in Hell all of a sudden can’t do anything right because he’s in love. *sigh*
And once Lela notices Malachi’s abs – well forget it…we never hear the end of it.
They do have a sweet relationship though and it's nice to see a thoughtful hero who isn't all alpha for once. Especially in YA. He respects Lela and her need to go at her own pace.
~ I first started reading YA with Twilight and for some reason any issue of Edward being 100 years old vs Bella being a teen never even occurred to me. In this book Malachi was a Jewish boy rounded up with his family during the holocaust. He’s been a guard for the Suicide Gates for over 70 years. The idea of him falling instantly for a teenage girl just didn’t ring true.
Those things annoyed me but weren't that big of a deal in grand scheme of things because the writing is good - it just felt like - been there done that if you know what I mean.
~ But my biggest annoyance and reason why I won’t continue is Lela going into situations that get people hurt/killed, despite warnings. Over and over again. Now I’m not saying she has to be a perfect kick-ass heroine. At first she was an awesome balance of strong yet vulnerable but after one really big screw up – she berates herself for being so dumb and thoughtless. Then does it again. And again. And again. You get the idea.
Final thoughts: I really loved Fine’s take on the afterlife, suicide, friendship and initially how she handled sexual abuse and the after effects. The action is fast and furious, and at times, gruesome. This is also a book with a lot of diversity in its characters. But it started to fall into cliché YA with the ageless hot boy romance/insta-love, the girl who is special above all other girls for no reason, a really stubborn heroine that keeps screwing up – apologizing - and then goes off half baked AGAIN.
If I had read this years ago when it first came out I think I would have liked it more. I'm just kind of tired of that set up I guess.
Several reviewers compared Sanctum to The Vampire Academy series so if that’s something that appeals to you – you might want to give it a try. The urban fantasy elements and world building were really well done.