2012: #36 – Santa Olivia (Jacqueline Carey)

Title: Santa Olivia
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Santa Olivia #01
Format: Paperback
Pages:  341
Release Date: May 29, 2009
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source: personal copy

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.

My thoughts:

Jacqueline Carey is well known for her epic fantasy, but this book is more science fiction mixed with a little dystopia. It does share one major element with her Kushiel series — love, in all of its forms, is very important to the story.

Santa Olivia is a town without a country, caught in a no-man’s land between the U.S. and Mexico and ruled by the military. It’s the town no one knows about, in a world that has been decimated by war and the flu. All the townspeople have to live for is the hope that one day, one of them will be allowed to leave. This honor is supposed to be bestowed upon the man who can beat the army’s choice in a boxing match.

Loup is an outcast in a town of outcasts. She’s always been unusual, even as a baby, incapable of experiencing fear. It’s a trait passed on to her by her father, a mysterious man on the run who disappeared as quickly as he appeared. Her older brother Tom is her protector, until they become orphans and he isn’t able to give her the care she needs. She then ends up at the parish church, which doubles as the town’s orphanage.

What follows is the struggle for survival in a town where conditions are deteriorating. Between the never-ending boxing losses and suspicions that the war being fought doesn’t really exist, the townspeople are restless and the military is cracking down. The conditions are just right for a savior to appear.

Carey’s writing is beautiful and expressive and descriptive without being overdone. One thing that she writes about very well is relationships, whether they are familial, friendly, or romantic, and those relationships are the real star of this story. The heart she injects into this bleak landscape is what makes you keep reading. You care about everyone, from Loup and her friends, to Tom, to the unorthodox clergy caring for them all. You cry when they cry, and cheer when they cheer, and above all, you root for their escape. Because, like them, you have no idea what is truly happening outside of the town’s walls.

If it’s not evident, I will definitely be continuing this series. This is the first book I’ve read in a while that I had difficulty putting down.

“They said that the statue of Our Lady of the Sorrows wept tears of blood the day the sickness came to Santa Olivia. The people said that God had turned his face away from humankind. They said that saints remember what God forgets about human suffering.

Of course they said that in a lot of places during those years.”

Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | WorldCat

Other reviews:

  • “I’m pretty sure Carey could write a tax-preparation manual and it would still be beautifully written. That is, her language is lyrical and an almost physical pleasure to read, even if the story itself isn’t to your taste.”Alpha Heroes
  • “If you’re looking for a unique heroine and an all-around great story, READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. It’s excellent.”Smexy Books
  • “While not the most original out there, the idea, a kind of ‘superhero-meets-government-conspiracies’ story, was really intriguing.”The infinite Curio

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