Title: Saint Death
Author: Marcus Sedgewick
Format: Digital ARC, 272 pages
Publication Details: October 6th 2016 by Orion Children’s Books
Genre(s): YA; Contemporary; Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.
A potent, powerful and timely thriller about migrants, drug lords and gang warfare set on the US/Mexican border by prize-winning novelist, Marcus Sedgwick.
Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence – and beyond it – America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead. Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.
I’m a big fan of British author Marcus Sedgwick but the last book I read of his, Ghosts of Heaven was a monumental disappointment. I therefore went into this with some trepidation. Saint Death also feels like a bit of a departure for him, although I’m not sure why because he’s nothing if not eclectic.
In this story, Sedgwick returns to the YA genre but takes us to a whole new place – a slum on the US/Mexico border and immerses us in a dark, spiritual culture.
Arturo has learnt how to survive in Anapra. He knows how to collect water in old coke cans and feed himself on scraps. He knows not to look to the men in the big black cars with the neck tattoos in the eye. He knows to never owe anyone anything.
But, when his best friend- who disappeared a year earlier- returns with his pregnant childhood sweetheart asking for his help, Arturo can’t turn him down. But in helping him, he will be exposed to all the things he’s learnt to stay away from – gambling, guns and drug lords. The only thing he can hope for is that the white lady, Santissima Muerte, AKA Saint Death hears his prayers and grants his wishes of protection.
Gah! I’m very torn by this one. It is a story which sheds light on an enigmatic, often brutal culture, with immigration at the heart of the matter. It is a story which is perhaps even more appropriate today than it was a week ago; portraying an important message that I think is wonderful to see in a YA book.
However, my main issue was that it wasn’t very exciting. It took too long to get to the short-lived thrilling action in which Arturo is locked in a high-stakes (not just money-wise) game of cards with a drug lord in order to save his friend’s life.
It was a quick read, yet the action felt slow and too simple. It was written beautifully, yet it never truly amazed me. It was just one big contradiction in my mind.
I applaud Marcus Sedgwick for putting diversity at the forefront of another of his YA books, but Saint Death didn’t have the emotional drive that She is Not Invisible did. His writing is beautiful, as always, but there was something lacking here. Maybe the ‘message’ overshadowed fully developed characters and plot!?
The jury is still out for me.
Saint Death is available in hardback or digital versions now.