Alien meets Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds in this thrilling debut novel about prison-guard-in-training, Kenzie, who is taken hostage by the superpowered criminal teens of the Sanctuary space station—only to have to band together with them when the station is attacked by mysterious creatures.
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.
I separate Sanctuary into two acts, and I’ll explore my thoughts on the story separating these two halves of the book. I really enjoyed the fast-paced, blood-rushing action, but the thing about large amounts of action (which is definitely fun and exciting) is that it sacrifices relationship exploration, characterization, and world/story-building to make up for everything else that’s going on. Because of this, I think certain interesting aspects of the story weren’t drawn to their fullest potential. Despite that, sci-fi lovers who are itching for an Alien-like story of survival will definitely devour this one. I certainly did!
Act One: Corporatism
In this act, Kenzie’s first person POV explains how she’s been raised to become a guard on Sanctuary, a space facility for kids that have superpowers called anomalies. She shows intense loyalty to the company that provides for her and her family, Omnistellar Concepts. She’s dedicated her life to working for the company and ensuring that the kids in Sanctuary are isolated so they don’t endanger society. However, a partly successful prison break attempt makes her hostage of these mysterious prisoners and at their mercies. Readers are then introduced to a flurry of characters and an emerging internal conflict within Kenzie about the values she’s believed in growing up.
“Where did my loyalties to the company end and my loyalties to humanity begin? Every nugget of truth I gave them about myself was against company regulations, but if there was a chance I could help, I had to take it.”
Plus points for a Taiwanese love interest! Asian love interests do not get the love and page time they deserve in YA, I find. (Although that’s shifting recently!) However, most of the characters introduced (and there is quite a lot) did not have distinct personalities, and the few with personalities were added weakly, in my opinion. For example, Tyler, an escaped prisoner, gets perhaps three main scenes total in this book that put him in the spotlight. Alexei, another anomaly, comes out as rough and as the muscle man, but nothing else to really like him as a character. Seeing as we’re in Kenzie’s head, I did become attached to her. Her internal struggle between the loyalties of Omnistellar that Kenzie grew up with and the newfound knowledge that the anomalies was well-written and expanded upon.
“Just a few days ago, my world had been this straightforward, clear-cut place. Now, I wasn’t sure of anything anymore.”
However, the plotline of Omnistellar’s deceit and lies becomes abandoned during Act Two. Yes, the company is bad and Kenzie now realizes this. But where is this rooted from? How did they develop in this future? How can the characters combat this? Perhaps we shall never know because hey look! There are now aliens in the plot. The history of the Earth and how it came to its current state is summarized in a page or less.
Act Two: Alien Entity
Once the prisoners’ plans succeed and they take over Sanctuary, they soon realize that they’re not alone – an alien has boarded the facilities and is hunting them for unknown reasons. From then on, the story turns into a game of survival. It was very fast-paced, and throughout the book there was never a dull moment. Remember how I mentioned that some parts of the story weren’t quite used to its fullest potential? Here’s an example: We have kids with superpowers that are trapped in a space facility with aliens. That should be exhilarating and refreshing. But the superpowers weren’t even used that often against the aliens, with the kids being more in favor of guns and technology in regards to actual combat (versus defensive abilities like invisibility). In addition, there is a marked focus on only seven or so kids and their abilities, making the rest of the prisoners almost irrelevant to the story.
The romance between Cage, the Taiwanese love interest, and Kenzie had a basis of instant attraction and was also as fast-paced as the rest of the book. I do like how both characters recognize this speedy progression of feelings and decide to embrace it though. This kind of justification for a fast romance fits neatly into the plot and I for one am a fan.
“Something in Cage called to me, and I really hoped I was going to get the chance to explore that something before my life ended in a flash of screams and claws.”
Personally, my qualm with survival stories is that when trying to stay live is the most immediate conflict, this gives very little to what readers are reaching for. Am I continuing this book to see kids end the hegemony of companies on planets? Kill all the aliens? Now that Kenzie realizes Omnistellar is bad, what is she going to do? So many interesting things introduced, so little motivation to resolve any of it.
Sanctuary is very action-orientated, sometimes to the degree of cutting off details about the world and characters. But this also lends it a lightness that will definitely attract readers looking for an entertaining time. It’s highly reminiscent of the Alien film series, as the main characters are dealing with unknown entities that are threatening their lives. I did like the constantly shifting plot, but a lot of the more unique parts of the story were left on the sidelines in favor of this action. I’m hoping that the sequel (because it does leave readers with a cliffhanger) will give more inspection about the world and a tighter focus on characterization, because I will be sticking around for it.
Thank you Netgalley and Simon Pulse for the review copy!