Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review | Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia
Jaqueline Carey
Santa Olivia #1
Published 2009 by Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
4 stars

Bite-Sized Review
Santa Olivia is the kind of story that makes you want to keep reading. If it hadn't been written by Jacqueline Carey, it isn't the sort of book I'd have picked up, but it's definitely worth a read.

King-Sized Review
Santa Olivia has been isolated from the outside world for years, ever since the influenza epidemic and the war with Mexico caused the US military to quarantine a stretch of land between the Texas and Mexico. Loup Garron, daughter of a warrior genetically engineered to be without fear, still resents the soldiers' oppression of her fellow villagers. Being literally fearless could have made her a boring character, but Carey rose to the challenge: Loup is complex and fascinating, and her reactions seem quite realistic given her nature. 

The blurb says this novel is "Jacqueline Carey's take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth," which is a true if slightly deceptive description. Santa Olivia has certain elements of vigilante justice, and they're quite good, but the story is really more about family and love. Military rule gives the town of Santa Olivia a dystopian atmosphere, and that makes much of what happens more believable. The general in charge of the base, a boxing fan, decreed years ago that if any champion of Santa Olivia could defeat one of his fighters, that person would win two tickets out of the quarantined area. So a lot of the book is about boxing, but it's not as boring as it sounds. There aren't play-by-play descriptions of matches or written versions of training montages; Carey's a much better writer than that. Instead, she ensures the reader experiences Loup's determination and struggles with her obstacles.

As for the werewolf bit, don't expect anyone to change into a wolf under the full moon. This is scifi, not fantasy, which means no magic and definitely no shapeshifters. There's not a lot of new technology - it's definitely more Hunger Games than Star Trek - but the main scifi element is definitely the genetic engineering that went into making Loup's father and those like him. I think that aspect will be further explored in the sequel.

Jacqueline Carey is very good at what you might call "non-mainstream" love stories. Loup and Pilar's story is very well done in a lot of ways. They complement each other; while Pilar is far softer than Loup, she understands people much better than Loup does. It's not a huge part of the story, but their relationship is important and makes Loup seem more human than her occasionally alien behavior would otherwise indicate.

Santa Olivia is a great story and definitely worth your time, as are the rest of Carey's books.

Quality: Excellent
Enjoyability: Excellent


  1. I've never read anything by her, but I do have the first Kushiel book on my bookshelf! This one sounds kinda quirky and unique to her other stuff, so it may be something I have to pick up. I love the sound of this one, as well as what you had to say about it!

    1. You should really get to reading the Kushiel books. It's fantasy intrigue, action, adventure and love all in one series. It's not short. As someone that reads through books entirely too fast, I adore this and the re-readability is incredible. I've probably read that book 10 times in the last few years. Phedre is probably one of the most interesting and complex heroines in all of Fantasy. There are no flaws in the way/style the story is told and I couldn't have asked for a better ending. I highly recommend the the first six Kushiel books. You won't regret it.

  2. The Kushiel books include some of my favorite novels. They're definitely worth it. Unfortunately, I do NOT recommend Santa Olivia's sequel, Saints Astray. I don't know what happened, but it's proof that even a fantastic author can occasionally turn out something bad. I'm pretending it doesn't really exist because I really liked Santa olivia and it destroys their characters.


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