Sanctum (Guards of the Shadowlands #1) by Sarah Fine. Fine’s Work is Fine Work!
Synopsis: “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.
Review: This was my first time reading Sarah Fine’s work, and it was fine work! I thought the world building was particularly stellar. The Shadowlands (a purgatory-like environment for those who commit suicide) and its inhabitants were well-developed. Some creatures were downright scary and not always because of their appearance. The psychological mind games were disturbing at times because of how normal some of the creatures and villains initially behave.
I particularly liked our leading lady and lad, Lela and Malachi. Though she’s not perfect and is capable of making critical mistakes, I appreciate Lela’s values and her selflessness. Her checkered and tragic past explains a lot about why she is the way she is. Malachi’s character is more of a mystery for a while, but he is a warrior through and through. They have great chemistry together, but I found myself appreciating most of the relationships in this book, platonic or otherwise. There were intriguing twists and turns that made the novel really hard to put down. Though this is a young adult novel, most of the time it really didn’t feel that way. The novel deals with very sobering subject matters from drug use to suicide to genocide to child abuse to rape. Let’s not forget the violence either. But the characters have motivations for a better tomorrow and that’s reason enough for me to root for them. While that works for me as someone who typically prefers adult series to YA, it may not sit as well with other readers.
Whenever I pick up a book and feel like I’m believably transported to another world, the author has done their job. I am really looking forward to the sequel.