The fictional city of Ruin in modern day Turkey. Over it towers the Citadel, where the very first Bible is believed to have been written. Built into the Taurus mountains where the Carmina, a society of monks, has been living for a couple of millennia, the building is entirely cut off from the rest of the world. There they hide and protect the Sacrament, an ancient relic of inestimable worth. Not every monk in the Citadel has access to the Sacrament – only the chosen ones do and they’ve been through a rigorous and violent ritual lasting years. Once they’ve reached this point the chosen each become a Sanctus, members of the Sancti. They’re never allowed to leave the Citadel – not dead, and certainly not alive. No one else can know the true nature of the Sacrament.
So of course one Sanctus, Samuel Newton, gets out. He climbs to the top of the mountain, standing there for many hours with his arms outstretched forming a cross, the sign of the Tau, older by far than the Christian cross. While the whole world below watches he lets himself fall to his death. But why? His sister, Liv Adamsen, undertakes a dangerous journey to find out the truth behind his demise. She’s helped by the Mala, a group who believe in a different version of the Bible, whose history is as old as the Carmina’s. The Mala wants the Sacrament to be revealed to the world.
As soon as a thriller deals with religious themes, comparisons are automatically drawn with The Da Vinci Code. Just like Jo Nesbø is not ‘the new Stieg Larsson’ because he is better than Larsson in many aspects, from plotting to character development, Simon Toyne is not ‘the new Dan Brown’. Sanctus is superior in characterisation, more intriguing, and better written than The Da Vinci Code, even though Dan Brown is very good with his plots.
The short chapters in Sanctus bothered me at first, giving the first 40 or 50 pages a broken rhythm that annoyed me like a new style of music might do, even though I was intrigued by the story right from the start. Then I got into it and realised I was following every move without missing a beat, even accelerating the speed of my reading while the pace of the story increased. Toyne’s writing has the clipped, fast-moving, and very visual style of a good director of suspense movies. He never stops on one angle for very long, prefering to give the reader different points of view and showing various sides of the story. This cinematic approach is very efficient but Toyne keeps it subtle enough so as not to overwhelm; the reader can take in all the information without feeling purposely misled. Speaking of movies, wonder of wonders, no film rights have been sold yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time before it happens. Another strength of Toyne’s book is the development of the characters through the arc of the story. He also writes believable female characters with major roles in the plot.
There’s a little humour here, some blood there, a conspiracy, religious zeal and devotion, a possible love interest, and the result is a damn good thriller. Sanctus has been translated into so many languages that it might even be published soon on Mars. I’m looking forward to The Key, book two of the trilogy, due out this spring in the UK.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars