Sanctuary by V.V. James (book review).

‘Sanctuary’ is a standalone urban fantasy novel written by V.V. James.

Meggie Knight has an interesting case on her hands. The star quarterback of the local football team has been murdered and it looks more and more likely that the daughter of the local witch is responsible. Now the mother of the quarterback and the witch are both willing to do what it takes to protect their children. Then the dark secrets start to surface making Maggie’s job quickly become unmanageable.

Now, although this is an urban fantasy with witches, it really felt more like a psychological thriller or police procedural at times. This did confuse me if I’m honest. I’ve never read a book quite like this before that I can recall and I’m not sure how I feel about it as an oddly specific sub-genre. I can clearly see why people compare this book to things like ‘Big Little Lies’, but with the added element of magic. It’s very similar in that you’re watching a picture perfect town with what appear to be happy normal people. But when we get to see below the surface, there is a lot of darkness going on.

Throughout the book, we get multiple points of view from various characters, so it was really useful to have a lot of the principle characters at the front of this edition of the book. I did find that some of the characters were highly memorable but others just didn’t stick for some reason so the list helped when I forgot someone.

I did really enjoy the magic system, it was interestingly witchy. The potions are created using ingredients like freely given hair along with mystical charts, these potions are then used long with hand gestures to make things happen. Unfortunately, as in many situations, although the people of the town want to take help from the witch they are very willing to throw her under the bus. They are very efficient at othering the witches when they want to. On this point, the history of witches in ‘Sanctuary’ seems to closely follow that of witches in our world. Apart from the fact that they still exist in a powerful way in ‘Sanctuary’.

Along with the othering of witches, this book deals with more real world issues such as slut shaming which is done well with no gratuitousness at all. You can clearly see how the author feels about this particular topic but James doesn’t let this become more of a topic in the book than it needs to be.

Overall, I did enjoy this book but I was glad it was only a standalone.

Sarah Bruch

November 2021

(pub: Gollancz, 2019. 448 page hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-47322-945-7)

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