Sanctuary, VV James – Book Review

Hello Humans! I’ve mentioned going along to the Gollancz blogger evening a few months ago – a great night hearing about all their upcoming releases, and mentally adding everything to my TBR. Well, at that event we got to hear from Vic James about her trip to Salem and how in inspired and influenced her latest book, her first adult release Sanctuary, which is set in a small town near to Salem which is rocked when a young girl is accused of murder – sounds simple right? Think again…


Goodreads Summary:

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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Content Warning: Underage sex, rape, attempted rape (described in a way that I imagine would be very triggering if that were a problem for you. Reader discretion advised.

Overall, I did think this was a good book. I don’t read a huge amount of mystery fiction, despite the fact that it’s one of my favourite things to watch on TV, so maybe I don’t have too much to compare it to, but the police/crime/murder mystery aspect of the story really grabbed me. I liked the multiple POV’s, getting inside the heads of people on every side of the story, and also showing the relationships between some older women which is something that I personally haven’t read a lot of.

I also thought that the story managed to capture that snowball effect of mob mentality very well, the ‘descent into madness’ of the town feels largely believable and was actually quite scary.

There’s also some good representation (at least it read that way to me) queer characters, including a non-binary character – just treated as normal parts of the world, it was nice.

So, overall I came out thinking that it was a good book, but there are some small elements that made it something that I wouldn’t exactly recommend to people.

The worldbuilding – this comes in a little too late for me. It took until 13% of the way through for it to be made clear that magic was a recognised thing in the world, that it was real and known and legislated. By that point someone was already accused of murder by magic and I was very confused as to why everyone seemed ok with the accusation. So I think that element of worldbuilding needed to be a little earlier – perhaps the difficulty lies in how otherwise similar the world is to ‘reality’.

The other problem was something that I know at least one other early reader has picked up on that I hope will be edited in the final version – that despite being set in America this book reads very English. Certain words like ‘cronies’ I had to run by an American friend as they felt quite jarring. I reckon this would be less bothering to a UK reader but anyone with an ear for dialects will likely find it odd if it does make it to the final copy.

Now we come to the biggest difficulty I had with this book. You may have guessed it given my content warning above – this book gives you absolutely no warning that it will contain descriptions of rape, of denial and disbelief of rape, and of the difficulties a young woman may face when accusing someone much loved in their community. Now in hindsight, the allegory should have been more obvious to me from the beginning – what’s the equivalent of a witch hunt in our times. But still, I wasn’t expecting it and this book goes even further than that into some topics that a number of readers will find very distressing. Again, I thought the plot of this book was good and that it was broadly well-written but to give no warning about such themes is irresponsible – particularly since Vic James’ current audience is currently a YA audience who will like I did, be excited to read her next book. I’m not saying only young adults need trigger warnings, they ought to be there for all readers, but a book that deals with these events happening to a teenage girl makes that even more pertinent.

I tent to try and keep my star rating focussed on the writing but in this instance, my experience of reading was so marked by the lack of warning I wanted to make a statement about the importance of including trigger warnings on books.

My rating: 2.5/5 stars

I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

I really hope that when this book does publish it will have content warnings in appropriate places. If that is the case I think it will appeal to many readers.

Sanctuary publishes August 8th

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What say you? Do you find trigger warnings helpful? What would be the best way for you to find them? Let me know in the comments below!


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