Wreathed in moonlight, incense, and memory, Molin recalled the days when Sanctuary had been a divine playground, swarming with gods, heroes, magicians, witches, priests, not to mention whole neighborhoods populated with the living dead. He’d thought that was hell. He’d never thought to see the day when he’d have welcomed the likes of Tempus, Ischade, or his own overly troublesome niece, Chenaya, with open arms.
-Molin Torchholder’s reflections on Sanctuary’s past…and present
Sanctuary is not a nice place.
There are cities that speak of wondrous things in fantasy books. Tar Valon of Jordan’s Wheel of Time books. Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings. Palanthus in the Dragonlance books. Incredible places all. So if you think of how wonderful they are, and flip them upside down to be equally horrible, you’d have Sanctuary. All right, perhaps I’m overstating things a bit. Let me try this again.
Sanctuary is a city that has been abandoned by empires, wizards, and gods; if a type of crime exists, it has probably been committed in Sanctuary several dozen times.
As it turns out, it’s also a book; Lynn Abbey picks up many years after the Thieves’ World anthology series ended over ten years ago (my god, has it been that long?!). As a result, most of the characters that fans of the anthology knew of are either dead, gone, or….? One of the ones that has hung around, though, is Molin Torchholder, a high priest of the exiled god Vashanka. Molin’s been around Sanctuary a long time, and in that time he’s seen it rise to almost-prosperity from its depths, and watched it sink right back down again-and worse. The book starts out with Molin getting ambushed by a pair of cultists belonging to a group that he’d thought long gone-indeed, was in part responsible for getting rid of. Unfortunately, the wound he takes in that ambush is a mortal one. Molin’s not the kind to die quietly, though-and the arrival of a young man named Cauvin gives him a tool to try to finish off his mistake…and perhaps leave a legacy for the future.
Cauvin’s a scarred character himself; he’s survived the worst days of Sanctuary (and that’s saying quite a bit), and now lives as a sort of adopted son of a stoneworker. His stepbrother, Bec, is very young, but far too inquisitive for his own good (and, thank god, no super genius; I was getting tired of books that had far too bright youths; Bec felt far more real to me because of it). And the lady of Cauvin’s life isn’t exactly the cream of the crop, but shares a history with him during those dark days. I had to feel for Cauvin while reading Sanctuary, because I can certainly understand his frustration dealing with Molin (hero of Sanctuary’s past, and even while dying he’s an arrogant guy).
In the process of serving Molin, we also get a bit of history behind Sanctuary. Most of the events chronicled in the Thieves’ World series are glossed over, in favor of events that have occurred later. That doesn’t mean, though, that we see no sign of the Sanctuary that was; long time readers will enjoy references to characters from the series, from Illyra the S’danzo seeress; Enas Yorl the immortal, shape-changing wizard who sought death; to those who had fairly direct contact with the gods they served, with power to show for it. And there are a couple of cameo appearances….
When reading Sanctuary, I had to read it with two pairs of eyes. The first pair were those of a fellow who had read all of the Thieves’ World books, including the various spin-offs at the time, and had enjoyed most of the stories therein. The second pair were those of a fellow reading Sanctuary without having read that series. I’d say that both pairs were satisfied. I might have a little more regret that most of the characters I knew are long gone, but Abbey did a creditable job in drawing me back into Sanctuary. I was also particularly happy to see that some questions are still not answered…perhaps in a future book?
I recommend this book highly for those who enjoy fantasy at the down-and-dirty level, where knights and wonder-workers don’t operate, and to anyone who enjoyed Thieves’ World in the past.