Cale has never known anything but the life of penury and punishment within the Sanctuary. His tormentors are the Redeemers, something akin to fanatical monks, who run the Sanctuary like a religious prison where the slightest infraction of the rules results in public torture and death. Their imagination knows no bounds when it comes to inventing new ways of humiliation and pain, thus the Sanctuary more closely resembles a sadistic haven rather than a monastery. Most of the training the boys receive is of a military nature riddled with religious doctrine so that when they come of age, they can join the war. Escape is nearly impossible because the Sanctuary is situated in the middle of the Scablands where there is nowhere to hide from the Redeemers bloodhounds. Those who try are made an example of by methods such as roasting them alive to purify their souls before they die.
Cale is a canny boy who knows how to get by in the Sanctuary, and besides, why would he run away when he has nowhere and no one to run to? His situation changes abruptly one evening when he is sent to the Lord of Discipline with what is surely a order for his punishment. All Cale can think about on his way there is what they will do to him and if it will result in his death. All such thoughts flee his mind, however, the moment he enters the room to discover the Lord of Discipline carrying out dissections on two live girls. In a fit of vengeance, Cale kills the Redeemer and must either run or be killed himself. Knowing that his chances are slim to none, Cale flees in the hope he can outrun those who will surely kill him. What he doesn’t know, is how desperately the Redeemers want him back and why.
I bought this book on a whim and having read it, I’m of two minds as to whether I’m glad I did. On the one hand, it was riveting and I had difficulty putting it down. The story grabs you from the beginning, especially as it is easy to relate to and sympathize with the boys in the Sanctuary. You feel their despair and hope as the story continues. The integration of Religion into a semi-fantasy, semi-post apocalyptic world (this is not defined in any definite manner) is well done and serves to create more interest in Cale’s world as a whole.
On the other hand, there are a lot of poor elements in this book, such as sub-plots and foreshadowing that appear once, but are never returned to, cheesy, plastic romance which is thankfully kept to a minimum, and an ending that leaves you flat, especially as it leaves so much open. It cries out that it’s the first book in a series, but there is no mention that there will be one, so you don’t really know if the ending is just lame or if you must just wait for the next instalment. In the meantime I’ve googled and it is apparently going to be a trilogy, but it would have been nice if they had mentioned that at the end of this book instead of just leaving you hanging. Finally, I have to mention that the last third or so of the book necessarily revolves around military tactics and leaves the character development behind. Since I have no interest in military strategy, my attention flagged here, but I kept at it in the hope that the ending would be worth slogging through the battle plans. Perhaps this is why I felt so disappointed at the abrupt and rather odd ending.
It’s difficult to give this one a rating since it was fascinating on the one hand and horrible on the other (kind of like the Twilight books). I’d give it a 4 out of 5 for grabbing my attention in the beginning, but a 2 for being so poorly executed as a whole. So, either take your pick of the two, or average it out to be a 3 out of 5, as you will. Very decisive, yes?