Sanctuary by Jeff Mariotte: B

From the back cover:
Angel and Co. are enjoying a rare moment of relaxation at the karaoke bar Caritas when a loud explosion draws the gang—and the rest of the bar’s patrons—outside. A building across the way is on fire, but the conflagration is nothing more than a diversionary tactic to distract people from a drive-by shooting! And when the smoke clears, Fred is missing.

It’s obvious she’s been kidnapped, so Angel, Lorne, Cordy, Wes, and Gunn set about questioning everyone within the immediate radius. At least ten demons were direct eyewitnesses. One problem, though: Each tells a different story of what he, she, or it saw. It could have been gang warfare—monster style—or Fred could have wandered home without saying good-bye. One thing quickly becomes clear: Demons don’t make for the most reliable sources…

Sanctuary takes place in season three, before the episode “This Old Gang of Mine,” in which Gunn’s former vampire-hunting buddies wreak some havoc in Caritas. At the time the story is set, Lorne has just finished renovating the club after it was damaged by the gang returning through the portal from Pylea in Angel’s car. Fred is still in her skittish, writing-on-walls stage and no romantic turmoil has disrupted the camaraderie of the group.

I had a little trouble getting into this one, initially. Not that it has any problems with timeline or canon; it was just a little dull. However, once I got more interested in the world-building going on via Lorne’s interviews with potential witnesses, the pace picked up. I liked that some attention was paid to what Lorne actually sees when he reads those who have sung for him. And it was pretty cool how Mariotte was able to reference the events of some early episodes as explanation for why some patrons of Caritas might have grudges against Angel. Like, remember some demon called Griff who menaced Doyle for unpaid gambling debts? Me, neither. But sure enough, he’s a real character in the Angel episode “Rm w/a Vu,” and his brother happened to be in Caritas the evening in question.

There were a couple of clunky lines of writing (example: “… caused the pain to come roaring back like a hungry lion released from its cage”) but not too many. The writing was in-character and often very amusing. There were lots of lines and scenes that I ccould totally imagine happening on the show, which is exactly what one wants from a novel of this sort. Like Angel wistfully remembering his evil days when confronted with an irritating convenience store clerk, and a whole lot of giggle-worthy moments between Cordelia, Gunn, and Wes, including a particular gag involving some demon goo on Wes’ hands.

All was going well until the last chapter or so, when a tremendously huge plot hole left me staring at the book and going, “Um…?” Despite this, I quite enjoyed the book and recommend it as a fun, light read. I’ve been pretty impressed by the two Angel novels I have read so far, and the local library has quite a few, so I will be reading more of them.

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