I promised to see if I could get my hands on this book after reviewing Ritus by the German author Markus Hetiz in September. As it turned out the book was still available in my local book store so I decided to see if I liked Sanctum better. I'm stubborn like that, I don't easily drop a series. Sanctum is the second half of the story that began in Ritus. Where Ritus is more focussed on the historical part of the novel, partially based on the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, Heitz explores the connections between the historical and present story line more in this book. It turned out to be an entertaining read but like Ritus, I wasn't all that impressed.
We pick up the story of Jean Chastel in the year 1767. He has killed the beast but the price has been high. He has lost his sons and what's worse, he knows the beast was not the only one. Although the French King would have peace and quiet restored in the region Jean knows the danger isn't past. Together with his beloved abbess Gregoria he decides to travel to Rome to see the pope. One of the church's agents did not quite behave like one would expect of a representative of the Holy See during the events that lead up to the killing of the beast. First Jean has to travel to Versailles to present himself to the king however. He makes Gregoria promise to wait but she leaves for Rome without him anyway.
In 2004 Eric von Kastell's search for the one remaining beast his family has hunted for centuries is turning into quite a mess. After getting into several nasty fights in the previous book Eric finds himself empty handed in a national park in Croatia. Several other groups have shown interest in the beast for several different, usually less than honourable purposes and none of them are afraid to support their claim with bullets if words fail. To make matters worse, his girlfriend is in the hands of one of these groups. Eric decides to travel to Rome to find her only to find that the intrigue surrounding the beast runs far deeper than he ever suspected.
I had hoped the character of Eric would receive a bit more attention in this book. Although Heitz gives us some clues about the origins of his family throughout the book he still spends most of his time running from one fight to another. Some of them are way over the top, in fact, given the number of very lethal gunfight he gets in, it unbelievable that the authorities have not taken an interest in his activities. What's even stranger is the number of groups that suddenly seem to spring up around Eric with in interest in him or the werewolves. Eric's family has been hunting them for centuries, surely they should have noticed the competition by now. Oh, and then there is the small matter of financing his, shall we say, rather destructive lifestyle. In short Eric is not a very believable character (did I mention he speaks at least 6 languages?). I had hoped for some improvement but Heitz only seems to have made it worse in Sactum.
The historical part of the novel is somewhat better. It is mainly set in Rome and effectively uses the historical conflict surrounding the Jesuits at that time. Heitz carefully reveals the origins of some of the organisations Eric runs into centuries later. This insertion of a little history makes it sound somewhat plausible. Jean's actions in Rome suffer from the same problem as Eric's however, he leaves bodies wherever he goes. Again, you'd expect people to notice this. It was not until the part where he trains a group of church sponsored women warriors before I really began to wonder what Heitz was thinking.
Sanctum is Ritus on steroids. It is supposed to be bigger, better, faster, more and when it comes to the action scenes Heitz succeeds in this to a degree. The book is fast, the action relentless and brutal, the reader can almost hear the bullets flying past. There is more to a good book than that though and Heitz neglect to lay a proper foundation for all this action. The dangerous stranger with the dark past remains just that. I was also quite disappointed in the way Heitz ties his two stories together at the very end of the book. He could have done it in a number of ways but in the end it almost felt like an afterthought.
In short, Sanctum is not the improvement I had hoped for. If you like fast and action packed this book might still entertain but for me the plot itself showed so many holes that I couldn't really get into the story. I guess it is a classic werewolf tale of local legend intertwined with a bit of conspiracy theory. This story works, it gets written over and over. In this case the execution leaves something to be desired though. I am sure there are a lot better werewolf stories out there than the one I just read.
Author: Markus Heitz
Publisher: Luitingh Fantasy
Translation: Marcella Houweling
First published: 2006