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Sanctuary of the Shadow

SANCTUARY OF THE SHADOW  By Aurora Ascher

Bantam Books, HB, £17.47

Reviewed by Christine Downie

Sanctuary of the Shadow is a dark fantasy romance by Canadian author Aurora Ascher. The main character is Harrow, a circus fortune teller who just happens to be the last living true Seer. Salizar, the circus owner, collects creatures and elementals for his travelling circus, giving them a safe home free from persecution whilst ironically displaying them and their skills for the entertainment of humans.

When he buys a creature unlike any other and keeps it hidden and locked in a magic cage away from the rest of the circus, the scene is set for Harrow to start investigating. What she finds turns out to be some kind of male demon that she instantly feels a bond with, and she decides to rescue him, jeopardizing her own place with the circus.

This is an adventure story with plenty of action, mayhem, suffering, torture and killing. Alongside runs a highly charged romance between Harrow and the demon, with fairly explicit sex scenes taking up some large chunks of the narrative. The author paces the book well, and it is very much a page-turner, with very few pauses in the narrative. There are occasional exposition dumps which feel a bit forced into the story as she explains how her fantasy world works. The hierarchy and history of the feuding immortal queens felt a bit confused. However, putting that to one side, the main focus is on Harrow, her friend Malaikah and the male demon, with the story cracking along at a good rate.

Ascher writes in a modern, almost conversational tone, and the use of modern slang and phrasing sometimes jars with the fantasy world setting that she has created. My particular bugbear is the word humungous, which just sounds completely out of place.

She has left the story open at the end to continue with a second book centred on Malaikah, a cat-like hybrid creature, which I am sure will include Harrow to a certain extent.

This is not high fantasy literature, but a lighter read with all the elements needed to entertain someone looking for a standalone story with fantastic beasts, a beautiful heroine, scorching romance and a good heap of violence. A definite recommendation for holiday reading on a long flight or a warm beach.

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