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Book Cover Image: Sanctus by Simon ToyneTitle: Sanctus

Author: Simon Toyne

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):

“A man climbs a cliff face in the oldest inhabited place on earth, a mountain known as the Citadel, a Vatican-like city-state that towers above the city of Ruin in modern-day Turkey. But this is no ordinary ascent. It is a dangerous, symbolic act. And thanks to the media, it is an event witnessed by the entire world.

Few people understand its consequence. But for foundation worker Kathryn Mann and a handful of others, it’s evidence that a revolution is at hand. For the Sancti, the cowled and secretive monks who live inside the Citadel, it could mean the end of everything they have built. They will stop at nothing to keep what is theirs, and they will break every law in every country and even kill to hold it fast. For American reporter Liv Adamsen, it spurs the memory of the beloved brother she lost years before, setting her on a journey across the world and into the heart of her own identity.

There, she will make a discovery so shocking that it will change everything…”

Thoughts: Religious conspiracy thriller are in abundance these days. Dan Brown proved there was a lot of money to be had in this genre, and authors everywhere were off to the races. On the surface, Sanctus appears to follow the same cookie-cutter format that pervades this genre. Thankfully, Simon Toyne creates something slightly different. Gone are the amoral and corrupt elements of the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, the Church in the Citadel is only loosely affiliated with the Vatican. Ruin, Turkey is fictional, as is the foundation for which Kathryn Mann works. These fictional elements make this less a religious conspiracy novel and more of a supernatural thriller with religious aspects. It is a subtle difference, but one that has quite the impact.

The beauty behind Sanctus is that two out the three major heroes are women. They are the ones being chased and fighting to bring down this long-standing organization. It is a very welcome and refreshing change to read about intelligent and strong women who are capable of taking on the Man without needing an actual man to help them. Unfortunately, as the action heats up, Mr. Toyne downplays this progress as Kathryn Mann’s son takes over the action scenes. Apparently, equal opportunity has not crossed into shoot-outs and confrontations with evil leaders quite yet, but it is a step in the right direction.

One major bone of contention for the reader will be the fact that while almost the entire novel takes place in the fictional town of Ruin, Turkey, it is described in such a fashion that there is almost nothing foreign about it. If the name of the town were not mentioned so often, the reader would be hard-pressed to understand that the entire setting occurs outside of the U.S. Everything is familiar from the vernacular to the descriptions of the stores, cars, and subterranean buildings. The European mystique simply does not exist. For a town that is shadowed by a religious organization with such long historical ties, the novel does lose an air of mystery and longevity that would really drive home the idea of a long-standing and extremely powerful organization.

Many reviews are going to compare Sanctus with any of Dan Brown’s Vatican thrillers. To me, this is doing both Simon Toyne and the novel itself a disservice. Whereas Dan Brown takes real-life elements and posits hypothetical situations and alternative histories, Mr. Toyne takes his ideas one step further by creating his Church and its enemies, as well as a completely new conspiracy, one that borders on the supernatural. Is it perfect? No, it is not; so many of these religious thrillers appear to follow the same formulas for suspense. What sets Sanctus apart is the supernatural elements. Add to that a satisfactory conclusion with plenty of unanswered elements to maintain interest for the next installment, and the result is an intriguing thriller that is perfect for someone who wants something slightly different.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Chelsey Emmelhainz and Shawn Nicholls from William Morrow for my advanced reading copy!

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