Wednesday, October 2, 2013

SANTA OLIVIA by Jacqueline Carey - Book Review

[Note: This review was originally published on in the summer of 2011.]

Rating: 4/5 -  A satisfying read that’s worth every word.

Santa Olivia

Jacqueline Carey

Format: trade paperback

Published: 2009

urban fantasy

  Grand Central Publishing

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

Summary (from the cover blurb):

There is no pity in Santa Olivia. And no escape. In this isolated military buffer zone between Mexico and the U.S., the citizens of Santa Olivia are virtually powerless. Then an unlikely heroine is born. She is the daughter of a man genetically manipulated by the government to be a weapon. A “Wolf-Man,” he was engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, stamina, and senses, as well as a total lack of fear. Named for her vanished father, Loup Garron has inherited his gifts.

Frustrated by the injustices visited upon her friends and neighbors by the military occupiers, Loup is determined to avenge her community. Aided by a handful of her fellow orphans, Loup takes on the guise of their patron saint, Santa Olivia, and sets out to deliver vigilante justice — aware that if she is caught, she could lose her freedom... and possibly her life.


Carey has an amazing ability to plunge you into a narrative. Immediately I was invested in Santa Olivia. I was reading along, and it seemed a ton had happened already, so I glanced at the page count.

Page thirty seven? Seriously?!

Carey (and I know this from previous reads) is deceptively simple in her worldbuilding, able to quickly sketch a grand, grand scope. Santa Olivia is very different from her Kushiel’s Legacy series, and just as engaging.

I don’t know why, but I found this book very mellow — in a good way. Very calm, matter of fact, gritty, yet eloquent. Not flashy, even while the tension was building.

It felt real.

A realistic fairy tale of a girl born of odd origins who rises up to be the hero of the Outpost, a town on the edge of a military base that has been scorned by the bordering countries, where its citizens are the citizens of nowhere.

Santa Olivia has feisty, almost morbid humour, and is delightful in its nonjudgmental delivery of the story. So the priest isn’t really a priest — he’s helping people, so who cares? The community needs someone to organize charity and lead their faith, and he stepped up, so he’s the priest. It works.

And at the risk of that spoiler alarm wailing, it’s about boxing. Yep. When the subject first edged into the plot, I thought it would remain in the periphery, but I discovered, happily, that it wasn’t. It’s a true tale of the underdog, sweaty boxing gloves, split lips, and desperation.

Which is why — especially for those guys out there who are leery of delving into the urban fantasy genre for fear of accidentally stepping into paranormal romance — I’d suggest you pick up this book. Sure, there’s a romantic interest, but while it is important to the main character, it is not central to the plot. And if knowing it’s about boxing entices someone who would normally overlook Santa Olivia to give it a try... well, I don’t think it counts as a big spoiler.

And there is sadness

Because that’s what this story is, at its core. A tale of the underdog, who brings hope to the downtrodden. I’m interested in seeing where the tale goes in the sequel, Saints Astray, which is scheduled for release in October 2011.

The next book probably won’t have as much boxing, but I think I’m safe in assuming that Loup will be kicking some ass...
permeating this tale, plenty of loss and realistic good-old-fashioned human assholeness, and it makes you root for the underdog even more.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book. I didn't expect to though. I was so invested in the Kushiel's Legacy series, this seemed too different. I gave it a chance though, because hey, it's Jacqueline Carey. I'm so glad I did. My library didn't have Saints Astray and couldn't order it for me at the time, so I went out and bought it myself, just so I could see the other half of the story that much sooner.