The Sanctuary by Andrew Hunter Murray

Noah’s Ark 2.0

😀 😀 😀 🙂

At an unspecified point in the not too distant future, Ben is waiting for the return of his fiancée, Cara, who has been working away from home for some months. Just as she is due to arrive back, however, Ben receives a letter from her telling him she’s not coming. She has decided to stay on the island where she has been working for a wealthy and mysterious billionaire called Pemberley. Ben can’t accept that his relationship is over so decides to make his way to the island, known as the Sanctuary, and speak to Cara face to face. But he soon finds that the community on the island is a secretive one, and they don’t welcome self-invited visitors…

Murray does a very good job of creating his setting. Although it seems the book is set in the future, it’s a future that is already very recognisable. Climate change has progressed, though not yet to the worst predictions, and extinctions are becoming more and more commonplace. Although it would appear that the society is well on the way to becoming fully dystopian, it hasn’t yet. However, the divide between rich and poor has increased, again quite recognisably, with the ordinary people living in cramped conditions in the overcrowded cities, while the wealthy live in luxury in closed villages outside. Pemberley, Cara’s employer, is the creator and owner of most of these villages, and while it’s not totally clear, it seems this may be where his wealth comes from. The place is also not specified, but feels very like Britain, with Ben living in what seems like it’s probably London, and the Sanctuary being set in the north, probably off the coast of Scotland. So there’s a real feeling of familiarity about both time and place, but the differences are enough to produce a sensation of unease caused by the feeling that we’re heading there fast.

Unfortunately the plot doesn’t really live up to the excellence of the setting. Pemberley is a cross between cult leader and the kind of billionaire that we are increasingly seeing in real life who use their ridiculous wealth to carry out extraordinary experiments, with no real democratic or governmental control over them. In Pemberley’s case, he has decided that if humanity is about to bring about its own extinction, he will use the Sanctuary as a kind of Noah’s Ark, but one where he is the supreme and sole ruler and where the normal rules of morality and ethics don’t necessarily apply. Both mad science and cultish leaders have been done many times in dystopian fiction, and I’m afraid Murray doesn’t really bring anything original to it.

Andrew Hunter Murray

As with his previous book, The Last Day, I feel that Murray has come up with a good premise but hasn’t really developed a strong enough plot to go with it. Looking back at my review of that earlier book, I see that all my praise and criticisms are the same. His writing is of a very high standard and his characters are interesting, which were the main reasons that I continued through to the end. But I kept waiting for twists that didn’t come and thrills that didn’t happen, and in the end I’m afraid I felt that the ultimate reveal wasn’t explosive enough to have justified the very lengthy lead up. I still think he has the potential to be an excellent SF/thriller writer if he learns to cut back a little on the description and scene-setting and boost the action element, so I’ll still be interested enough to look out for his next book.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Cornerstone via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link

22 thoughts on “The Sanctuary by Andrew Hunter Murray

  1. I do like a story with a strong sense of place and physical setting, FictionFan. But I agree with you that the plot needs to be strong, too. Still, the premise is interesting, and there’s a lot of potential there for exploring human nature. I’m glad you found some things to like about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • His writing and characterisation are very good, and he always sets up an interesting premise. Hopefully with experience he’ll get better at matching that with a strong plot. He’s definitely a writer I’ll continue to watch, though!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Although this sounds intriguing, I think I’ll pass on it since I have so many others I need to read. I recently read a dystopian novel that had the same feel to it, though it took place in California and focused on the poor element, rather than the wealthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the problem with dystopian fiction, I think – they all begin to feel a bit same-y after a while, especially when they’re based on climate change as so many of them are at the moment. He has loads of potential, though, so I’ll still be keeping an eye on him!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As you mentioned, the story seems similar real-life events but also to other fictional stories. Knives Out 2: The Glass Onion had a similar weird billionaire. So this isn’t for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think a lot of dystopian fiction can feel a bit same-y – it’s quite hard to come up with an original angle. But he has loads of potential so I’ll still be keeping an eye out for his future books!


    • Yes, I feel I’ve had enough of the Elon Musks et al in real life without reading about fictional ones too! Time for a revolution and some serious redistribution of wealth, I feel… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry this one didn’t live up to your hopes. Still, it’s an interesting premise. Perhaps with a stronger editor — one who’s not afraid of stepping on a writer’s feelings! — he just might have broken through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can never understand why editors don’t take a firmer line, especially with new writers who’d benefit from the advice. But he has loads of potential, so I’ll still be keeping an eye out for his future books!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmm, if this one was at my library I might give it a try despite the uneven plot, since I like the sound of the premise – but I’m not sure I’m interested enough to make it my book purchase of the month! Shame though as it sounds like he has a lot of skill but hasn’t quite found his feet yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve enjoyed both of his books, but in both cases I’ve felt that the plot just didn’t quite live up to the excellence of the setting and the characterisation. I still think he’s got loads of potential though, and is well worth trying if you come across one of his books at some point.


    • I’ve enjoyed both of his books, though in each case I felt that the plot didn’t quite live up to the excellence of the setting and the characterisation. But he has loads of potential, well worth trying if you come across one of his books. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, he did the dystopia angle really well, with it just being a wee bit worse than it is now but still very recognisable as the direction we’re heading in. I still think he has loads of potential, so hopefully the third book will be the one where he gets the balance between plot and setting to work!

      Liked by 1 person

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