Sanctuary by Caryn Lix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There was a moment right at the beginning of this book when I had to stop and think whether or not I wanted to go on, when the protagonist did something that struck me as veering perilously close to Too Stupid To Live territory. Granted, this incident did set the plot in motion, and since we're dealing with teenagers here, the reader must remember that they are (usually) impulsive and rebellious. And in fact the main character did grow on me, making mistakes (including some really big ones) and learning from them. This book did become better as it went along, but just be aware that the first few chapters are a little rough.
If we're summing up this book as a Hollywood pitch, it would have to be: the Xenomorphs from Alien meet the X-Men (or maybe the Young Avengers). The titular setting, the space station/prison Sanctuary, is the destination of last resort for teenage (and younger) metahumans, who started being born after the arrival of alien probes on Earth fifty years previously. Our protagonist and narrator Kenzie Cord is the daughter of parents who live and work on Sanctuary--and in the case of her mother, act as its commanding officer--running the station for their corporate overlords, Omnistellar. The first chapters of this book are deliberate and slow, establishing the characters and setting. Then, after Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners in Sector Five, the story takes off, with nearly the entire book taking place within a span of around thirty-six hours.
Needless to say, with such a compressed time frame there are a lot of action-heavy set pieces, but there are also genuine moments of character development, especially for Kenzie. She moves from being a semi-brainwashed corporate shill to questioning her entire worldview, and eventually, as secrets from her past come to light, throwing in her lot with the prisoners. There is a bit of romance (but no love triangle, thank heavens), but the main emphasis is on friendship and the family you make, rather than the one you are born into. The concept, in this future, of corporate versus government citizenship also brings in elements of classism and elitism, although these themes aren't explored as deeply as I might have liked. Maybe that will be expanded upon in the sequel.
Regardless, though this is a flawed story (especially in the beginning) it is, in the end, a solid one and worth your time. The author shows promise and hopefully the next book will bring this story home.
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