Sanctuary – V.V. James

Spoilers Ahead!

The first thing I did after I finished Sanctuary was preorder a signed, limited edition copy from Goldsboro Books and that, in itself, tells you everything you need to know about how much fun I had reading this book. My review could end here but, because I love chatting about books so much, it won’t.

The cover image caught my eye when I first saw it in a Goldsboro newsletter (bookish emails are so dangerous for me!) and after being enticed by the blurb I investigated further. NetGalley had review copies available and I managed to snag one! Woohoo! Now I’ve come full circle, back to Goldsboro, but wanting this book has now morphed into needing it.

Daniel died at a party a few weeks before the senior class graduates. He was a quarterback for the Sanctuary Spartans and had a football scholarship lined up. Harper, Daniel’s ex-girlfriend and the daughter of Sanctuary’s only witch, is suspected of having killed Sanctuary’s golden boy. A police investigation begins to determine the cause of Daniel’s death. Friendships are tested and loyalties are divided as the facade of this picture perfect small town cracks, spiralling into a witch hunt as long held secrets and lies are revealed.

#JusticeforDaniel

This story is told by Sarah, Abigail, Harper and Maggie, and also includes various transcripts, newspaper articles, emails and police documentation. I enjoyed the different perspectives and although I didn’t feel the four voices were distinct, I didn’t really mind as I was so occupied watching the chaos unfold.

“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.”

Harper, daughter of Sarah

“I always felt proud to be the mom of a boy – they’re so much more straightforward and honest. Girls can be sly, slinking things.”

Abigail, mother of Daniel

“To those who don’t need me, I’m an irrelevance. To those who do, I’m a help, a friend, a guide.”

Sarah, witch

“I don’t want to let down another girl by not being a good enough cop.”

Maggie, out-of-town state investigator

I always get a tad anxious when a book begins with a list of characters. Are there so many people that I won’t be able to tell them apart? Do I need to make copious notes to remember who everyone is in relation to everyone else? I’ll admit that as soon as I saw that list I put this book down and picked up another, delaying my read for several days. I needn’t have worried though. After the first couple of chapters I didn’t need to look at it again.

The four of us were friends, despite our obvious differences. And we became a true coven. Bridget grounds me, Abigail fires me up, and Julia reminds me of the beauty of my craft.

I enjoyed getting to know the various kids, coven members and their partners, and the police investigating Daniel’s death. I appreciated that Maggie’s perspective was coloured by a previous investigation, giving her character more depth. I wanted to give Sergeant Chester Greenstreet, A.K.A., Helpful Cop, a bear hug for some reason, and I really wanted to get to know Rowan Andrews, independent magical investigator (them/they/their), more. Rowan’s character intrigued me but they weren’t as involved in the story as I’d hoped.

I loved learning about this world’s magic system, with its rules, restrictions and fascinating powers. I enjoyed learning the rituals and watching Sarah’s preparations. Having consent as its foundational principle and it working by exchanging one thing for another made sense to me both generally and in the context of the storyline.

Something given for something gotten.

Witchcraft aside, I could see this story playing out in reality. The issues it raises about consent, xenophobia, discrimination and mob mentality could have been pulled from any number of new stories. The exploration of how our past influences our decisions in similar situations interested me and seeing how grief affects different people played out in believable ways. The escalation I saw in this book typifies how the fear of what we don’t understand can explode into witch hunts, literally and figuratively.

Magic is the art of choosing the best path to where you wish to be. And, as with life, where you end up is the result of the choices you’ve made.

I predicted some of the reveals from fairly early on but didn’t mind as they were what I wanted to happen anyway. If you don’t want the answers to be too obvious please try to avoid comparisons between this book and certain others.

Having said that (and this is not spoilery), as I read I kept thinking that this is exactly how I’d imagine a story unfolding for the residents of Wisteria Lane if witchcraft was a part of their world. They both involve a group of female friends and their children whose lives look picture perfect, but beneath the surface there are secrets that have the power to change the dynamics of their friendship if they were to come to light.

Was this a perfect book? No. I had unanswered questions, like if Tad and Mary-Anne truly believed their youngest son was in intensive care, then why weren’t they with him at the hospital?, and I would have liked more information about what happened to some of the characters after I finished the last page. But did I have so much fun reading it that ultimately I didn’t care about any of my quibbles? Absolutely!

Content warnings include bullying, domestic violence and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gollancz, an imprint of Orion Publishing Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The small Connecticut 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 …

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