Sanctus - Simon Toyne image
Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my GIFTS AND GUILTY list.

Regardless of how many books are already queued patiently on my reading list, unexpected gifts and guilt-trips will always see unplanned additions muscling their way in at the front.

The word on Sanctus from my GR friends:
“Very good religious-conspiracy type thriller” – Cara Muphy (4 stars)

“A good thriller akin to the likes of Dan Brown” – Kindlebug (4 stars)

“Anyone interested in historico-religious thrillers should find this an exciting and worthwhile read.” – Katy Sozaeva (5 stars)
Now, I read The Da Vinci Code back when it was the biggest thing since slice bread – and I liked it well enough to pick up a couple more of Dan Brown’s books from my Mum’s bookcase (Angels & Demons, Digital Fortress). I’ve rated all three at 2-stars here on goodreads, because they’re perfectly readable and entertaining, but overall they’re not really my kind of thing.

I think the fairest review I can give Sanctus is to say that Toyne’s novel is just as good as Dan Brown’s. If you liked The Da Vinci Code, if you like religious-conspiracy type thrillers, you will like this. If you felt so-so about Brown, as I did, you’ll likely feel the same here. So it gets another two-star rating from me.

This was a present from my mother-in-law. For some people that would be enough on its own to consign any book to eternal obscurity, but I actually like my wife’s Mum. She usually has pretty good taste in books but this one was wide of the mark and spent over a year languishing on my shelf before I decided to just read the damn thing and get it over with.

To start with I thought this might have some nice alt-history elements to lift it above Brownishness. The story focuses on The Citadel, a massive religious fortress carved/tunnelled into the side of a mountain in Turkey. It’s utterly ancient, predates the Vatican and is the true home of the church. They’ve got a secret there – the Sanctus of the title – and nobody knows what it is. The holy grail? The cross of Christ? The body of Christ? Etc. There’s a core group of monks who know what the Sanctus is and guard it – when a new members is inducted into the group, he is so horrified by the truth that he escapes, climbs to the top of the citadel and jumps (using his cassock as a makeshift wingsuit) to land outside the Citadel’s jurisdiction.

The story gets picked up by the local detective, the dead monk’s long-lost sister (who just happens to be an investigative reporter), the opposing secret society devoted to bringing down the Citadel, the good monks within the Citadel, the evil monks within the Citadel, the assassin-monks dispatched by the Citadel, etc.

The actual events of the story occur pretty quickly, cascading one after another as a good thriller should. The viewpoint cycles between all interested parties to keep the reader better informed than any one of them and the tension high. The chapters are all around 3-4 pages long to keep the pace snappy – but this drove me mental because no one chapter has any real momentum gathered.

But it’s all building up to the big reveal right at the end – what IS the Sanctus? And this was this was the biggest let down for me. It was just… silly!

See spoiler if you've not intention of reading the book: Ok. Are we sitting comfortably? The Sanctus is… Eve! That’s right, the better half of Adam and Eve, the original woman. She’s some kind of magical immortal which the church has been keeping locked up (in an iron-maiden to keep her weak) since the dawn of religion. Anyone within a close proximity to her heals almost instantly. The Citadel garden is incredibly fertile because she’s there (or maybe the plants are watered with her blood, it’s not clear). The people of the city around the Citadel average an extra seven years life expectancy because she’s there. She is life and wonder embodied… or something. And yet, when she’s freed by our courageous heroine she immediately dematerialises and imbues the girl with some (all?) of her powers. But she couldn’t dematerialise in any of the previous centuries of imprisonment because… she needed to make eye contact with a female? Because… mystical holy powers are sexist!


That so didn’t blow my mind.

After this I read: The Wind In The Willows