"Sanctuary.
It's the perfect town....
To hide a secret."

I ordered this book from the library after the cover caught my eye when I was browsing in a bookstore.

Collecting it from the library just a couple of days after I put my order in, I had second thoughts. Reading the blurb I realised it was about witches and, despite being a huge Harry Potter fan, I very rarely enjoy other books about the occult, vampires or other magical fantasy worlds.

Having ordered it however, I opened it, and only closed it again after reading the very last chapter.

Advertisement

The story is gripping from the start and you can't help but get caught up in the mystery as it unfolds.

A child is dead and his parents want answers.

Detective Maggie Knight is the officer trying to find them, but she comes up against a town caught up in secrets, rumours and lies.

At the heart of it are four close friends, their children, and a secret they share.

That secret involves witchcraft, which in the world James has imagined is real, but carefully regulated. Every town has a witch, and every witch is bound by clear rules. But are the residents really as comfortable with the idea of witchcraft as it seems?

V V James skilfully weaves a tale which digs under the surface of acceptance, and examines how quickly people can turn against anyone who appears different to themselves.

Grief leads to fear, and fear leads to hysteria as the townspeople being to look for someone to blame and someone to hate. A mob mentality bubbles to the surface, fed by lies and manipulation by people who should know better.

Events unfold in a way reminiscent of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, but cleverly reimagined for the modern world. On the surface, it is about witchcraft, but really, witchcraft is just a clever analogy - hatred and fear of people who are different is a real life issue, and you could easily replace witchcraft with the idea of someone being of a different faith, creed or colour, and the same events might well play out.

Advertisement

V V James has created some interesting and complex characters, although I wish she had fleshed some of them out a little bit more.

Of the four friends, I felt I never got to know too much about Julia to the point I wondered why she needed to be part of the story at all. It's a shame, because generally V V James is adept at making us like her characters, and giving them enough depth to explain their choices and actions.

She doesn't develop bad or good characters, but rather a range of characters with shades of grey - they aren't bad, but they make bad choices at times. All her characters, in some way at least, are driven by the desire to do what is right, or what feels right anyway.

This ability to create characters who the reader may not like, but will understand, is part of what makes this book so enjoyable.

Overall the book makes for an pleasant read. The mix of detective novel with a paranormal slant works well and V V James manages to create and develop her fictional world throughout the book. It never feels like you have to wade through chapter after chapter of a history lesson explaining her fantastical world, just a few cleverly placed sentences give all the background needed.

This regular column showcases some of the books available to borrow from the Stratford or South Taranaki book catalogues. The books are chosen by our editorial team.

As well as borrowing books from the Stratford Library, Stratford library card holders can also borrow books from the South Taranaki book catalogue at no extra cost.

This shared service is very popular, with over 300 books moving between the libraries each week. Library users can reserve books online regardless of which library they belong to and can also return issued books to the Stratford Library or any of the seven South Taranaki libraries.

Reserving items is free. Library members are notified by email or a phone call when reserved items are ready to collect.

All of the books reviewed in this column are available to borrow through the library system.