Grey Jean-Marcelin, a well-known local artist, is trapped by his depression and in the midst of his isolation and hopelessness, decides his only option is to take a shotgun and shoot himself. Yet Grey’s attempt to find release from his pain is unsuccessful and, ironically, his salvation comes in the shape of self-titled “murderer” and EMT, Saint.
Saint is not human, though he is unable to identify who or what he truly is. He is over two hundred years old, but has no memory before the day he was found with nothing but his clothes and mental faculties, in Savannah. However, Saint does know that men die because of him, but not before finding the inspiration they need to leave a legacy with their art and a tattoo on Saint’s body for him to remember them by.
Seeing Grey’s struggle with living, which coincides with Saint’s own decline in health because he has not taken a life for eighteen years, Saint decides to be honest with Grey, offering him death with certain “benefits” if Grey can help him to discover his true identity.
Shatterproof is gritty, but Xen Sanders’ writing is powerful and real. As a sufferer of depression and someone who has attempted suicide, I knew there would be parts of the story I would find difficult — after all, authors do not give their readers trigger warnings without a reason. Yet, the aspect which struck me the most about Shatterproof is Sanders’ honesty. Grey’s mental illness is not romantic and there is no cure. He does discuss medication and therapy and the fact that each of these comes with their own setbacks. Grey’s existence is overwhelming and his emotions are palpable because they are so credible. The way that Sanders writes means we understand that when Saint makes his initial offer, this is a symbiotic agreement, though intimacy between the two men is required at some level.
Grey and Saint become so utterly consumed by each other and this surprised me a little — though I loved it — and it meant that throughout Shatterproof I was left with a fearful anticipation of what was to come. I will not give the ending of the story away, but Grey and Saint became so imprinted on my heart that the thought of either man dying was painful.
I read a fair number of paranormal stories, but Sanders ensures that Shatterproof deserves more attention than its counterparts because it transpires that Saint belongs to a species I have never heard of. This means that Sanders was able to fully capture my interest and intrigue me more with this unique choice.
Saint and Grey are wonderfully complex characters whom Sanders creates masterfully. In my opinion, because Grey’s Catholic voudou heritage becomes a focal point of the storytelling, and is a religion I knew nothing about, I felt I was learning more about a whole culture at the same time as gaining a greater understanding of Grey and his personality.
It is not only Sanders’ characters I loved but also his use of language. Every description, whether it be of a hospital room, houses, or emotions, is full of so much detail and energy that my imagination came alive!
The man stared straight ahead at the road; in the darkness, coyote yellow had deepened to a burnished, liquid shade of honey that swam with a thousand questions Saint didn’t have answers to. Stark lights played in black and white planes over his gracefully sloping features and high cheekbones. His broad, angular shoulders were painfully hard; tense, deep brown skin drawn taut as a silk banner, lines of meaning written in the language of flesh.
Shatterproof has left me with the biggest book hangover and I am happy to suffer it, I would even read it again now! Shatterproof is a book I would recommend to everyone, not only because of the insight Sanders provides about mental illness and love but human nature.
Please remember, though, this is an heart-wrenching, emotional story and there are triggers — and the author’s note after the story’s conclusion is an important addition.