Santa Olivia: Completely different and darn good

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Jacqueline Carey Santa OliviaSanta Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

I’m not actually sure if Santa Olivia (2009) is technically a fantasy novel. The heroine, Loup Garron, has unusual abilities, but she gets them by way of genetic engineering, not magic (her father was a top-secret military experiment). However, if you’re a fantasy fan, don’t let this dissuade you! There’s plenty here for a fantasy reader to love. Santa Olivia is a coming-of-age story; it’s a story about being a misfit; it’s a story about an underdog up against towering odds; it’s a love story; it’s a hero(ine)’s journey story.

Santa Olivia is set in southern Texas in a bleak, plague-ravaged near future. The military has taken over the area, supposedly to protect the citizens from a shadowy external threat. Poverty and crime are rampant. Into this setting comes Loup, who rises from humble beginnings to become a symbol of hope and freedom for the downtrodden people of the town of Santa Olivia. Caution: you may find yourself cheering aloud! Despite the very different settings, I was sometimes reminded of Donna Gillespie’s The Light Bearer as I read Santa Olivia; the two books brought out the same pumping-my-fist-in-the-air impulse in me.

Fans of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel novels will not be surprised that the love story in Santa Olivia is sensual, touching, and bittersweet. Loup and her lover are painfully “real” to me in their trials and tribulations. Both characters have made very specific plans for the future, and both find that their relationship complicates those plans more than they ever imagined.

I should also mention that Carey sets herself a hard task and does it well. One of Loup’s special qualities is that she does not feel fear. It can’t have been easy to write almost all of the novel from the perspective of someone who simply isn’t ever afraid (even when the reader is nailbiting on her behalf)!

I could not put Santa Olivia down, and I highly recommend it. It had me on the edge of my seat, and while I was already a Jaqueline Carey fan, it has given me even more respect for her abilities. This is completely different from anything she’s done before, and it’s darn good.

Santa Olivia — (2009,2011) Publisher: Lushly written with rich and vivid characters, SANTA OLIVIA is Jacqueline Carey’s take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth. Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive “Wolf-Man” who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon. The “Wolf-Men” were engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear, and Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider. After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town. Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered. And like the reincarnation of their patron saint, she will bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.

Jacqueline Carey Santa OliviaJacqueline Carey Santa Olivia


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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