Sanctum by Sarah Fine

Publication Date: October 16th, 2012
Amazon Children’s Publishing
Format: Hardcover, 433 pages
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

“My plan: Get into the city. Get Nadia. Find a way out. Simple.”
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.

There are books that would take a couple of chapters before it captivates you.

And then there are books that would take a mere couple of pages.

From my perspective, Sanctum, falls into the latter. I have a few Goodreads friends whom I severely trust when it comes to recommendations just because they don’t really do it that often. Alexa (of Collections), my cohort, is one of those people. In fact, this is just her second recommendation; the first one being Invisible Touch by Kelly Parra. This girl knows what I like so when she says a book is awesome, I take heed, yanno? Really, it was no surprise to me when I found myself slightly obsessing over Malachi.

If you grew up in a household of Catholics and went to school in a Catholic school for girls, then you would’ve been relentlessly preached about where souls go after we die: good ones to heaven, bad ones in hell. We’re also taught that those who committed suicides shall have a condo along side Inferno Avenue. Well, this book pretty much will give you the location and a courtesy tour of what’s waiting for you if ever off yourself. These souls don’t go straight to hell, as what we, Catholics have been led to believe all along. They go into this holding place; a dark world where sinister beings find bodies to use as a vessel for their equally evil brethren. The Guards of Shadowlands are the hunters of these wayward souls.

Ever since Lela’s failed attempt to take her own life, she’s been having visions of this world. But when her best friend killed herself, her dreams started becoming rampant. She was not only seeing Shadowlands in her dreams, she’s also started seeing it during waking hours. Then she accidentally fell of a cliff, plunging into her own death. She woke up in field – a meadow not far from the gates of Shadowlands. Given a choice to save herself or her best friend, she chose to sneak inside the gates to retrieve Nadia. When the guards suspected her of being a Mazikin, she was captured to be questioned and executed by their Captain, Malachi. With Shadowlands’ world and its creatures being dark as they were, imagine her surprise when she meets an enigmatic human.

Captain Malachi is on the last few days of his terms as the leader of Guards. Soon, he will face Judgement and be sentenced wherever he was meant to go. Lela is a complication he wasn’t at all prepared for, especially when she’s willing to put up a lifetime of hell in exchange for the peace her best friend has sought in life and death. The battle is on as Lela fights to save Nadia and Malachi fights to save Lela. But even in the darkest of worlds and fiercest of wars against the Mazikins, Lela and Malachi couldn’t deny a connection that they both know would eventually end in a heartache.

This book is just what you need to break the monotony of the endless parades of angels, vampires, ghosts, and werewolves book in the superhighway of YA publishing. It’s so different, so refreshing to read about another world that really, no one has touched. You can even say it takes a couple of massive cojones to write something as touchy as suicidal teenagers.

This is a dark book with a bunch of characters who succumbed to the hopelessness of their existence by choosing to end their lives. It’s about a man who threw himself to an electric fence during the Holocaust. Yes, that Holocaust. It’s a story about a foster teen who had to endure numerous sexual abuse in the hands of her foster dad. It’s a story about a girl who was made to witness the gruesome slaughter of her own mother.

I could go on and on about how amazing this story is and I swear, I wanted to give it a five but something is holding me back. As preposterous as the idea was of a purgatory full of warriors and monsters, it wasn’t even why I’m a little hesitant. I’d like to think that I’m very amenable with any world I dive into every time I crack open another book. I just…there’s just something chaotic about how this world came to be that’s not agreeing with me. It may have something to do with the ingrained knowledge that when we die, our body is left to dust and our souls move on. In this world, however, souls of the Mazikins take over bodies of humans. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Out of all the suicidal humans who ended up in Shadowlands, how is it that there are only a few guards that are actually humans? How do they get selected? Raphael, Michael, the Judge. There are some ambiguities to this book that I wished were cleared up. But maybe I’m jumping the gun here. After all, this is just the initial offering.

Sarah Fine’s imagined world is a great take on the after life. I appreciate the fact that she stayed away from Religion so as not to alienate some readers. I really did enjoy this book. I think she penned some polarizing characters that made them real and multi-dimensional. There was never a dull moment while reading this book – the training, the action sequences and even one-on-one encounters between Malachi and Lela will get your heart pumping.

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