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Sancti Trilogy – Simon Toyne

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It’s actually been quite a long time since I read the first two Sancti books, but for a variety of reasons I have only just got round to the third. I also then discovered that, to my surprise, I never posted a review of either on my blog. So, time to amend that. I will end this post with the review of the third book that I have just completed, but I have also decided to repost the reviews of the first two, previously posted to Goodreads. So here are the trilogy in full…

SANCTUS (Book 1) – Originally reviewed 2012

It’s been a while since I read anything non Historical, but had this recommended to me, so I bumped it up the pile.

I read it in short order, in every five minutes available.

Sanctus is intriguing, complex and absorbing from beginning to middle.

I use this odd turn of phrase because the second half is also intriging, complex and absorbing, but it is also exciting, action-packed, fascinating and explosive (quite literally).

Once you’re about 25 pages in, the book is impossible to abandon. You just HAVE to know.

Essentially, the novel has the feel and components of every conspiracy/supernatural/quasi-religious novel ever, but manages to avoid being derivative, predictable, boring, dry, or silly – all things I have found in novels of a similar genre.

I won’t detail the plot as that would be far too complex and spoil things, but a war between ancient sects over the greatest secret at the heart of organised religion has spilled over into the present day.

Toyne has, perhaps wisely – given the religious aspect of his plot – created a fictional location and sect, twisting the real world so that it becomes his plaything, aiding his plot while remaining so familiar it’s impossible not to recognise everything.

I delayed going for a pint that was already in and standing on the bar to read the last 10 pages, and there is simply no higher recommendation than that.

THE KEY (Book 2) – Originally reviewed 2012

Like most of the readers of Sanctus (I would guess) I finished that book wondering how on Earth Simon was going to follow it up. The ending of the first was pretty world-shaking, after all.

It took me a long time to getting round to reading The Key, largely because of a heavy reading list requirement and not having the free moments, but I have always had it floating in my MUST GET TO pile. I finally discovered that I had free moments and leapt on the books with a sense of urgent excitement.

It took me maybe the first 50-60 pages to make my mind up about it. It seemed to be a little jarring after the end of the first in some ways, despite flowing almost seamlessly in others. In retrospect, I put this down to having spent too long away and not being caught up properly. Certainly as soon as I was familiar once more with the characters and settings, I was racing away, turning pages at a rate of knots.

The story seems to be wide and in parts unconnected for a while, but if you’ve read Sanctus, you’ll be prepared for the ingenious ways that the apparently baffling disparate tie in to the story’s heart. As with Sanctus, I got the end marvelling at it and smiling at the perfect neatness of it and yet kicking myself because I should have been able to piece it together.

Where the first book focused entirely on Gabriel and Liv and their allies and the mysterious citadel of Ruin and the dark secret it has housed since the earliest days (no spoilers in my reviews, gov), the second in the series focuses on the source of the Sacrament: the garden of Eden and a hunt set against the clock with the prize being a nebulous good but the cost of failure being deadly to those characters we follow and appalling for the world in general.

As characters we liked from book 1 become all the more fabulous, we are introduced to a succession of new villains of the most vile and odious kinds (and often the merely misguided or stupid) and new locations (the Vatican was clearly going to become involved at some point). The addition of a few twists that made me raise my eyebrows made it a masterpiece for me.

Where I started unsure and a little out of my depth, it took only a few breaths before I was being dragged headlong through the tale by Toyne’s action narrative and by the end I was grumbling that it was over. Bravo on a superb follow up. Loved it.

THE TOWER (Book 3)

What can a person expect from the conclusion of such a trilogy? I mean, it’s an apolcalypic-strength trilogy, so the third book would really have to be a killer, of course. Expectations should be high, and therefore, of course, are surprisingly low, because it’s not going to be easy to do – and probably hasn’t been – and you don’t want to hype it so much to yourself that it doesn’t live up to it.

So it was a bit of a surprise.

After a year and a half since I read book 2, rather than finding it hard to get back into, the characters unfamiliar, and the plot threads lost and discordant, instead I found it an instant win.

The Tower grabs the reader not slowly and constructively like The Key, but like the original Sanctus. I read two chapters (his chapters are really short) and then simply could not put it down.

For our two continuing main characters, the story picks up precisely where it left off, involving once more the great citadel of Ruin and the ‘blight’ that is scything its way through the faithful and the desert location where Liv had brought the sacrament and turned hate and destruction into hope and beauty.

But this book also draws in new characters, most notable those belonging to the FBI in western-states America. Agent Shepherd is about to become involved in an investigation into why NASA is being targeted by religious fanatics and hijacking and destruction of the greatest telescopes in the world. Because although the Sancti are no more, the sinister Novus Sanctus is putting all his pieces into play to prevent the Biblical End of Days. But the end of days might not be what the public suspect.

This is as good as the original book. Written at a pace that is non-stop action, The Tower is a stunning finale, that draws together all the threads and plunges us headlong into a fantastic, unexpected conclusion.

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So there you go. Three books of a trilogy, each valuable as a read, but when put together, a stunning and rewarding way to spend your time. Simon Toyne is by far my favourite writer of the ‘quasi-religious thriller genre’, outstripping Dan Brown by so far they can’t even communicate by phone!

If you’ve not read the Sancti, go get them and read them.

Back in a few days now, with Mike Arnold’s ‘Highwayman: Ironside’

Written by SJAT

January 10, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Christopher Gortner – The Tudor Conspiracy

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My interest in the Tudor era stemmed not from my history teacher (who was a teacher of the most excellent sort), and not from books (I was not reading history texts at that age), but from two things: My first visit to the historical sights of London – including the Tower and Hampton Court – and the Royal Armouries (then in the tower) with the magnificent armour of Henry VIII. Needless to say, as a lover of history, the interest that triggered has never left, and though my focus is primarily on the ancient world, I still love a little Renaissance culture from time to time.

If, like me, you’re fascinated by the intrigues, plots, wars and religious troubles of the Tudor era, you’re probably already aware that Christopher Gortner, author of a number of excellent novels, including The Queen’s Vow – Review here, has a fabulous novel out, named The Tudor Conspiracy, already available in hardback but now in paperback release. The sequel to The Tudor Secret, and second in the ‘Elizabeth’s Spymaster‘ series, this novel sees Mary Tudor, new to the throne of England, facing plots and threats. Her half-sister Elizabeth is in grave danger as one of Mary’s perceived enemies, and only the resourceful Brendan Prescott can save her by plunging into a world of danger and plots.

I am privileged to have been asked to be part of Christopher’s Blog Tour for the release of the new book, and there follows a guest post by the man himself, in which he delves into the rivalry between the two sisters who sit at the heart the novel’s plot. Read and enjoy:

The Tudor Conspiracy

Mary and Elizabeth: Sisters and Rivals

There is something fascinating, and disturbing, about family members who turn on one another. The Tudor dynasty is no exception. Though Henry VIII did not sire many children, considering how often he wed, history has perhaps no sisters more famous for their rivalry than his two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth.

Born of the king’s marriages to his first and second wives, respectively, Mary and Elizabeth were both declared bastards in turn after Henry divorced Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, and had Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, beheaded. The rivalry between the two mothers, each determined to hold onto their crown and defend their child, set the stage for a legacy of mistrust between the daughters, who were as different in temperament as any sisters could be.

The eldest by seventeen years, Mary went from an adored childhood to a horrifying adolescence in which she saw her beloved mother supplanted by another. Humiliated and relegated to the status of a servant in her baby sister Elizabeth’s household, the scars of Mary’s teenage years can’t be underestimated.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, was barely three when her mother died and she was made illegitimate. A famous quip from this time is attributed to her when informed of her new status: “How is that yesterday I was Princess Elizabeth and today only Lady Elizabeth?” Young as she was, Elizabeth had a keen grasp of her situation. She grew into womanhood surrounded by danger and became adept at the rules of survival, aware that one misstep could lead to her doom, her mother’s example always before her.

Both sisters understood the perils intrinsic to royal life, but while Elizabeth learned to play the cards dealt to her, Mary remained steadfast in her right to stand above the crowd. They both had courage but their experiences couldn’t have been more disparate. Elizabeth was born into, and raised, in the Protestant Faith; like their brother Edward, she embraced it. Mary resisted, both from a deep-seated belief inculcated in her as by the rigidity of her own character, which was not given to change even when circumstances called for it. In the end, whatever rapprochement the sisters found as outsiders uncertain of their place, denigrated into savage rivalry when Mary became queen against all odds and they found themselves pitted against each other.

Mary could not forgive the insults tendered to her by Anne Boleyn and in time, she came to see Elizabeth as the very incarnation of her late mother. In turn, Elizabeth began to recognize the stony threat that Mary’s hatred posed to her and her fragile position as the sole hope for the Protestant cause in England. Their pasts had made them who they were; and their struggle for supremacy would divide the country, sisters and rivals unto death.

This rivalry is the core of my new novel, THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY. Thank you for spending this time with me. To find out more about me and my books, please visit me at: www.cwgortner.com

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My thanks again to Christopher Gortner.

The Tudor Conspiracy by Christopher Gortner is published by Hodder & Stoughton in paperback and ebook, £8.99.

Go buy it. Amazon link here.


Written by SJAT

January 23, 2014 at 11:25 am