By Sarah Fine
THERE’S NOTHING like a wholly immersive and unique underworld experience—and Sarah Fine’s Sanctum delivers in terms of the dark and creepy city behind the Suicide Gates. The city is such a complicated, riveting character in this YA paranormal-romance that it practically steals the show!
In the beginning, there is Lela. She is a scarred fighter, which contributes toward why she can’t understand why her best friend Nadia would choose to end her life. Another part has to do with her own experience standing on the brink of suicide—and the sight of the forbidding city she saw waiting for her in the afterlife. Little does she know, she caught a glimpse of the Shadowlands’ Suicide Gates, patrolled by formidable guards and nasty demon-like Mazikin who are intent on bringing more of their kind into the city by taking over human bodies. So when she finds herself in a position to rescue Nadia from her unholy resting place, she takes it.
Along the way, she meets the Captain of the Suicide Gates, Malachi, who reluctantly agrees to help her. We’re treated to the usual goggly-eyed stream of “ohmygosh, he’s smokin’ hotness!” from Lela while Malachi is “intrigued” by her, which instantly sucks all the tension out of where that relationship is going. I’ve definitely grown weary of “eternal love” romance lines, which is probably why I spent less time interested in Malachi for his hot bod, and more time curious about how he became Captain, what he was keeping in the city as much as keeping out, and what he could tell Lela about Fine’s afterlife in general. It was hinted at that there are other “cities” in the Shadowlands for other untimely circumstances of death, and the place the Mazikin are trying to escape from sounds none-too-pleasant. The time Lela initially spends wandering around the city trying to find Nadia were some of the most nail-biting, tense moments, because the Mazikin were still unknown and scary enough to convey how vulnerable Lela was. However, Lela spits back whatever the city throws at her, evil tower that tries to eat her and all, and gains some kick-butt allies in the form of Guards Malachi and Ana.
I’m uncertain of Ana’s background, but if you check out Malachi’s journal entries on the author’s website, you learn of how she comes to join the Guard and that she was a Spanish-speaker—Takeshi is her love interest, and Lela is American but tentatively claims Puerto Rican ancestry, so yay for a strong POC presence. However, I was kind of disappointed that the beginning centrality of Lela and Nadia’s friendship fell by the wayside in favor of romance. Throughout the entire book, Nadia remained a ghost to me—I don’t think I ever really got a sense of who she was, which, in some respects relating to the heavy subject matter, may be the point. Unfortunately, that means I didn’t really feel the connection that would motivate Lela to take the action she does in the end; Nadia just feels too much like a symbol rather than a person.
The plot is very strong and the atmosphere enthralling—I wanted to know what would happen, and I refused to put down the book until I had my answer. However, as I mentioned before about the unique creepiness of the city taking on the semblance of a character in its own right—and in a large part, differentiating The Shadowlands Series from many other YA paranormal/urban fantasies out there—then I’m worried that the engrossing urgency it conveys will be lost in the second book, Fractured, which moves to the evil earthly realm of—high school. I constantly found myself asking more questions about the dark city rather than the characters, so hopefully the Shadowlands will continue to make its menacing presence known in future installments!
Recommended for fans of: Susan Ee, Leigh Bardugo, Jessica Shirvington
Upcoming Book Reviews: Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins and The Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa