Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review - Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
published 2009
341 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

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:

This book has been on my radar for quite a while - I fell HARD in love with Carey's Kushiel series, but even I could tell that Santa Olivia was not going to be the lush, romantic epic fantasy that I'd come to expect from this author. So, while I knew I wanted to read it, I'd put it on the back burner for a while. Because really, what can be worse than when an author you LOVE writes a book that you....don't. And when I read the description, I thought, "Wolf-Men??? Hmmmm...."

But I saw it at the library, and I felt like I could use a bit of a break from the modern, somewhat bleak lit-fic I had lined up, so I grabbed it. Then it sat languishing in my bag for quite a while, as my reading time became occupied with more important things. And then, last weekend, I was almost out the door before I remembered I didn't have a book in my bag (TRAGEDY!), and it was on top of the pile, so I grabbed it and ran.

Several hours later, I was so engrossed I forgot to eat dinner. And the next morning I woke up early to keep reading. Because once again, I fell HARD in love with this novel.

Santa Olivia is a little bit dystopian sci-fi, a little bit coming-of-age, a little bit romance, a little bit adventure - really, it's such an interesting mix of genres that it winds up feeling a lot like it's very own thing, which isn't in this case bad. It's definitely a departure for Carey, though - her Kushiel series has an elegant, lyrical quality to it that perfectly fits the narrative. Santa Olivia is neither elegant nor lyrical - it is hard, and blunt, and again, it fits the narrative. These characters live hard, bleak lives, and too much elegance in the prose would have seemed out of place.

While the writing itself is good, it is the characters that make this novel. Carey takes such care in creating her characters, and they just come to life in the pages. Each of them is important, and so perfectly placed - I can't imagine the story without a single one of them.

And then there is Loup. She is a heroine I will never forget. She is feisty, and loyal, and completely unafraid. (Literally. She can't feel fear. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.) This book, more than anything, is Loup's journey - from precocious little girl to fascinating woman. She learns about love, and courage, and about picking her battles. She is strong in all the ways a person can be strong, and yet she is not invincible. She is utterly compelling.

Yep, I loved this book. It's not perfect - some of the backstory could be fleshed out a bit more, and the ending was a bit abrupt. But I think much of that could be resolved in a sequel, which I understand from the author's website is in the works. (Hooray!) But it was one of the most entertaining books I've read this year, and I have a feeling it will be one of my favorites when the year draws to a close.

Finished: 4/3/10
Source: Forest Avenue library
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, and sexual situations
My rating: 9/10

This book counts toward:

42 Science Fiction Challenge
4/42 complete

Women Unbound Reading Challenge
2/8 complete

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