Sanctuary by V.V. James | Book Review
Genre: Adult Fantasy Mystery Themes: Crime, Family, Witchcraft
Rating: 5/5 For Fans Of: Peter Grant Series, Big Little Lies, The Craft POV: Multiple
The new adult contemporary fantasy from V.V. James, author of the Dark Gifts trilogy (as Vic James), perfectly takes fictionalised witchcraft practices as well as real life social issues and blends them into an ideal crime thriller tale to add to your summer reading list. We follow a small fictional town of Sanctuary where the star quarterback dies at a house party, prompting a routine investigation by state police. The first to be accused is Harper Fenn, the ex-girlfriend of the deceased as well as the daughter of the only witch in town, because what other logical explanation can there be? As secrets about the town begin to unravel, the detective assigned to the case begins to question whether the perfect image portrayed by the residents is really all a mask covering some dark truths.
With an abundance of murder mysteries being published each year, audiences have started to catch on to traits that occur in the genre to figure out a case, yet I felt so tricked by this tense story as every twist deflected from anything even remotely foreseeable. I'm not exaggerating when I say I was nearly ripping the pages in order to turn them faster. Think of it as though the essence of Revenge (remember that crazy TV show with Emily VanCamp?) had coffee with the characters from Big Little Lies in Salem. And created a coven. That's the sort of chaos you can expect.
The use of witchcraft as a metaphor to discrimination in the modern world was very reminiscent of the way 'skill' (the almost sci-fi like power in James' first trilogy) was used to illustrate abuse of power by the wealthy, perfectly establishing a clear brand for the author. While showcasing real life issues embedded in society through fantasy elements, James keeps her books highly entertaining yet full of crucial life lessons.
The worldbuiling is something to be commended in this book, as although we are presented with a very similar world to our own, the mere existence and acknowledgement of witchcraft requires for there to be a lot of rewritten history to the version we know. We are presented with just enough information about how witches are embedded in society, through expanded by-laws in the legal system that apply specifically to those with the gift as well as the existence of a group called the Moot, who protect the rights of witches in america. None of this ever feels like 'information dumping', all the magic was very believable and this is largely due to the fact it wasn't the only theme in the story. Police procedure and criminal investigation perfectly balance the supernatural elements.
For my full thoughts, as well as a spoilered discussion for those that have read the book and wish to discuss theories, check out my video review below!