I read Simon Toyne’s Sanctus because of the above trailer. [Note: If you like zero spoilers, ignore the above trailer. It convinced me to read the book, but it also made the first few chapters seem slow, because I already knew what was going to happen.] Promotion for Sanctus focused heavily on its similarities with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. To be honest, while I’m a thriller fan, the deluge of “next Dan Brown” conspiracy thriller books that came after Brown’s success has made me cynical about that type of book.
Still, the trailer did intrigue me enough to check it out. There are definite plot similarities to Da Vinci Code, though the cinematic quality of Toyne’s writing, especially at the beginning of the novel, also reminded me of James Rollins. Unlike Brown and Rollins, however, who both rely heavily on research for their books, Toyne chooses to locate Sanctus in the fictional Citadel, a Vatican-like city-state in Turkey. As well, rather than the Catholic church, it is a fictional religious order of monks that guards the novel’s big secret. This detracts a bit from the impact of the novel, as it then becomes easier to believe the whole thing fiction and therefore Toyne’s revelations didn’t have as much impact on me as Brown’s. However, this decision also frees Toyne to imagine a secret and a conspiracy far beyond the realm of the ordinary.
I enjoyed Sanctus. The novel began a bit slow for me. From the trailer above, I already knew what the monk was going to do. Also, with so many characters in the first few chapters, it felt like a montage of scenes, and I couldn’t find a character to latch on to and care about. Still, once the story gets going, I really enjoyed reading about Inspector Arkadian and Liv Adamsen.
Sanctus is about how one monk’s actions endanger the secrecy surrounding the mysterious Sacrament hidden from the public for centuries by a group of monks. The monk’s sister, Liv, might be an integral part of a prophecy surrounding this Sacrament, and she is hunted by the monks trying to keep the secret and a group of people who want the secret to be revealed.
Toyne writes well, and Sanctus is an enjoyable read. For most of the book, however, it just didn’t grab me as much as I thought it would. I think that’s because it felt so much like The Da Vinci Code, except with the bad guys belonging to a fictional religious group and the clues pertaining to a religious document that doesn’t exist (or at least makes no claim to exist) in the real world. So while I was gasping at Brown’s observations about the Mona Lisa or alternate gospels, I viewed the document in Sanctus with detachment.
It wasn’t enough of a fictional world to completely transport me (as, for example, the world in Lord of the Rings, where I take a prophecy as significant because it feels significant within that world), nor did it have enough hooks in reality to completely grip me (as in the best James Rollins books). I did care enough about the characters to want to keep reading about them, but not enough to make real emotional investment (as I did with Spycatcher). Sanctus is a good book, a well-written, well-paced thriller, but nothing about it really struck me.
At least, that was true until the big reveal. When I found out what the Sacrament was, and why it was significant, I was completely, utterly blown away. I think I was still expecting a Da Vinci type reveal, so I figured that whatever the Sacrament was, it would have the same impact on me as the monks’ sacred document did. Well done, Mr. Toyne. I absolutely did not see that coming. Also, I realized why it was a good thing that Toyne stayed away from the extensively researched worlds of Brown and Rollins.
Sanctus is the first volume of the Ruin trilogy, and I’m curious about where Toyne will take his story for the next instalment. To be honest, I can’t imagine how he’ll take this story to a full trilogy. Then again, as my experience of reading Sanctus showed, Toyne’s imagination can certainly trump mine.