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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MICHELLE'S REVIEW: Sanctum by Sarah Fine

Title: Sanctum
Author: Sarah Fine
Format Acquired: Hardcover
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
Publishing House: Amazon Children's
ISBN: 9781612184425
Source of Copy: Purchased from Amazon


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

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.

             (Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book)


Lela, a foster teen who has been raped by a foster father, has attempted suicide in the past. Because of this near-death experience, she gets visions of the City - visions where she sees the souls of those who committed suicide and succeeded. She may have sleepless nights because of them, but then, it's nothing compared to what she has now. She has her best friend Nadia, a foster mother who seems to actually care about her, and a bright future ahead. But when Nadia overdoses on pills, Lela can only watch helplessly as Nadia is confronted by things that Lela can't protect her from. In a twist of fate, Lela accidentally slips off a cliff and ends up in a meadow where both happiness and satisfaction are overflowing. That doesn't deter her from formulating a plan as soon as she sees the Suicide Gates looming just outside though. Lela knows she must save her best friend and get her to the meadow. Lela, however, didn't expect to meet Malachi who might offer something more than just his help. And Malachi knows that the most important thing for him to do is keep Lela alive.

As soon as I read through a few pages, I knew I was going to be hooked. The world-building was very well-thought of. The segway from the modern world to the Suicide Gates was quite seamless, what with the normalcy of Lela's daily life (aside from the visions of course) to the eventual spurring of the plotline leading to the City, which just sounded very desolate and bleak. The whole thing just seemed so believable that I wouldn't be quite surprised if it were true. Fine also presents the possibility of the meadow (paradise) being located in the same dimension as one of the gates of hell/purgatory. I thought that this was particularly interesting as it deviated from the usual thinking that heaven and hell existed in different dimensions. The fact that the City also had a judicial system to decide whether or not one was to be permitted to the meadow was also fascinating to note, as the border between the meadow and the City was just the Suicide Gates. Who knows what other gates are linked to the meadow? For me, it further encourages the thinking that humans (or in the case of the unknown, souls) will always have a shot at redemption.

Fine does a good job of making her readers warm up to Lela, and making her an unconventional character. It's like she knows that we have had enough of stereotypical kickbutt, rebellious teens who - in their own opinion - know what they're doing, and instead, sticks to a different kind of heroine: a likable, but not insipid character who has turned her life around because she finds the prospect of having a future actually quite nice. Lela is awesome, because she isn't bothered by what other people think about her. All she cares for is her best friend, Nadia, who isn't living the perfect life everyone thinks she's living, and maybe even her foster mom, Diane, who actually seems to like her hanging around. Unlike many other protagonists, Lela seems perfectly able to fend for herself, but she has needs like love, friendship, and acceptance, that she can't just shrug off. Fine then has crafted a character that makes us realize her human capabilities, and I thought that this was a nice touch. 

Then there's the friendship dynamic between Lela and Nadia. I have never read anything that comes this close to portraying such a wonderful friendship. Lela may think that she's the lucky one for having such a nice and supportive friend, but I think it's Nadia who's luckier. Her best friend, Lela, died - sure, it was accidental, but it's just semantics- and waded through the City looking for her, and not only was Lela risking her neck, but other strangers who were willing to save Nadia as well. When Lela was on the meadow, all she could think of was Nadia, and there and then, I thought that their bond was truly amazing.

Malachi is a legend on the streets and an equally fierce Captain of the Guards, but to Lela, he's actually very kind and sweet. There's none of that stereotypical bad boy jerk that's trending nowadays, and I can only sigh in relief. The only turnoff I can sense from Malachi is that he is too self-sacrificial to the point that he is fighting for her cause without properly thinking of the repercussions. But then again, I guess he's bitten by the love bug a little too hard.

While I am not a fan of insta-love, it works here.  Sure, sometimes it gets a little over-the-top but I'm honestly fine with it overall. I know what you guys are thinking, but hear me out first. The City is filled with dejected souls, and Malachi has spent enough time to judge for himself just how desolate and bleak the City and its inhabitants are. All the moping around, all the aimless wanting... it's just really depressing to witness how pathetic these souls are. So when he sees Lela, who is literally kicking and screaming the first time they meet, of course he's going to be interested. She's the first girl in decades he's seen that still seems to have her wits about her, aside from his partner Ana. Add to the fact that Lela doesn't seem to be so scared of him, and you've got Malachi who is immediately fascinated with her.

Sanctum keeps a good pace, and is really quite addicting to read. The ending was a bit expected, but I really didn't mind at all. Fine does a good job at keeping her readers interested and has a knack for delivering exactly what people want in carefully measured doses.

It then goes without saying that Sanctum is highly recommended. If you like reading about unconventional heroines, swoon-worthy romance, theories about the afterlife, and the extraordinary magic of friendship, you would want to pick this up. 



  1. I just had this recommended to me, and I've put it on hold at the library. I've heard that the characters are very well drawn, and from your review, it definitely sounds that way. I'm really excited to read this. Great review!

    1. Thank you. :) Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

  2. Sounds really interesting. Not many books are set in hell, so this one definitely is now on my TBR list!

    Just letting you know, I nominated your blog for the Liebster Blog Award! :)

  3. sometimes insta-love works and I am glad that it did. I love when you know in the first few pages that you are going to love a book..this is going on my list! Delightful review!

    1. I like rationalizing insta-loves, and if I can't, well... Thanks for stopping by! :)