book review: sanctuary by caryn lix

Sanctuary by Caryn Lix
Simon Pulse, 480 pp.
Published July 24, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free physical ARC of this title from the publisher for review consideration. This did not inform or influence my opinion in any way.

Kenzie holds one truth above all: the company is everything.

As a citizen of Omnistellar Concepts, the most powerful corporation in the solar system, Kenzie has trained her entire life for one goal: to become an elite guard on Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s space prison for superpowered teens too dangerous for Earth. As a junior guard, she’s excited to prove herself to her company—and that means sacrificing anything that won’t propel her forward.

But then a routine drill goes sideways and Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners.

At first, she’s confident her commanding officer—who also happens to be her mother—will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. Yet it soon becomes clear that her mother is more concerned with sticking to Omnistellar protocol than she is with getting Kenzie out safely.

As Kenzie forms her own plan to escape, she doesn’t realize there’s a more sinister threat looming, something ancient and evil that has clawed its way into Sanctuary from the vacuum of space. And Kenzie might have to team up with her captors to survive—all while beginning to suspect there’s a darker side to the Omnistellar she knows.

The X-Men meet Alien in Caryn Lix's debut novel about a space prison filled with teenagers in possession of mysterious superpowers. A prison break accidentally coordinates with a mysterious alien assault, leaving both the prisoners and the skeleton crew guarding them at risk. Hints of corporate intrigue peek in through the more immediate danger as well, the history of Earth and how familiar nations were eventually divided into areas still controlled by the government—crime- and poverty-riddled, with little hope of escape—and those taken over by corporations, who benevolently provide every necessity to employees and their families. Sanctuary, the prison under attack, is owned by one such corporation; Omnistellar demands absolute loyalty and Kenzie, the daughter of two esteemed employees, has grown up with that expectation.

Sanctuary follows her efforts to survive first a hostage situation, then the larger threat of intruders in the prison, as well as her gradual understanding that the narrative Omnistellar has spun around its prisoners and their criminal proclivities may not be entirely true...or, at least, that there's a second side to the story. A typical teenage girl, Kenzie spends her days fretting over her grades and her performance as a junior guard, a position that might one day secure her a permanent position with the company. She likes manga, often asking herself what the heroine Robo Mecha Dream Girl would do. Her moderate training is no match for the prisoners and their powers once they manage to remove the repression chips embedded in their skin. Once they are all thrown into a battle for their lives, however, her knowledge of the space station and combat skills place her on more equal footing.

The prisoners vary not only in age and powers, but represent a diverse cast of backgrounds and personalities. Cage, the ringleader, and his twin sister Rune shine brightest, their familial bond easily conveyed on the page. Some of the younger prisoners' timidity fails to match with their substantial powers and the danger Omnistellar claims they pose to society, furthering Kenzie's internal conflict. Sharp-tongued Mia fits in better with the image of a hardened criminal, as does her boyfriend Alexei.

A couple of twists take the story in unexpected directions, although one in particular is pure YA trope indulgence. It's a slightly strange and largely unwelcome development; as Sanctuary nears its conclusion, the wholly anticipated reveal feels like an awkward attempt to patch a potential plot hole.

By far the weakest part of Sanctuary is the budding romance between Kenzie and Cage. In less than a day their feelings of mistrust and anger transform into affection, even while under the constant duress of an alien assault. It's a cumbersome and unnecessary addition to an already busy plot. With the way paved for at least one additional book, the progression of attraction happens too quickly and would have fit in better during the calm that follows the survivors' escape.

Santuary also suffers from a bloated page count. At nearly 500 pages long, Lix could have trimmed a hundred pages and significantly upped the tension. Instead many of the thrills come from cliffhanger chapter endings, with an alien's sudden appearance or an undisclosed shocking discovery. It's a tactic that keeps you turning the pages, although a little reluctantly as the story plods on. A tighter focus on the strain of survival and less attention paid to the shadowy corporations, whose activities could be addressed in the inevitable sequel, would have greatly increased the readability. As it is, Sanctuary delivers some predictable excitement in a pleasing mash-up of genres, sure to entertain a ravenous sci-fi buff.


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