Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
May 29, 2009
Grand Central Publishing
Jill Sorenson is back with another review!
You guys! I found it. The most awesome book in the universe. SQUEEE!!!
This was recommended multiple times in a thread at Smart Bitches. When I saw it at my local library, I snatched it up. I’m so glad I did. The author delivers strong characters, a sweet romance, and a fascinating dystopian world.
Santa Olivia is a small town on the border of the US and Mexico. Due to war, famine, and civil unrest, it was cordoned off. Now it’s a military zone, patrolled by armed soldiers. There is only one chance of escape. The general who runs the town enjoys a good boxing match. Each year, a citizen of Santa Olivia challenges the military champion. The prize for winners is two tickets out. So far, the townsmen have lost every match.
The beginning of this book is unique in that the main character, Loup, isn’t introduced right away. It starts with Carmen, her mother. She falls in love with a soldier-boxer named Tom. When she gets pregnant, he promises to marry her and take her away from Santa Olivia. A few weeks later, he’s killed in a suspicious accident. Carmen names their son after him.
Carmen eventually recovers from the loss. She has a hard life as a waitress in a diner. One day, a black soldier wanders in. There’s something strange about him, but he’s handsome and kind. Carmen is flooded with attraction. On impulse, she invites him home. They have sex, and it’s explosive, but she realizes that he’s not like a regular man. He admits that he’s some sort of government experiment, a genetic mutant with super strength. Women have always been afraid of him, so her desire is an unexpected gift.
Carmen becomes pregnant for a second time with Martin’s child. He has to flee Santa Olivia because he’s not really a soldier, but a fugitive.
The heroine is born a mutant. Loup (“wolf”) is fearless, fast, and strong. Her older brother Tom looks after her while Carmen works. He teaches Loup to slow down and use caution so she doesn’t get hurt or attract attention.
Tom wants to be a boxer like his father, and he’s big for his age. He trains hard in the gym and dreams of leaving the poor streets of Santa Olivia. When Carmen dies, he promises Loup that he’ll win a match and take her to Mexico to find her father.
This brother-sister relationship is the sweetest thing I’ve read in a long time. Tom is adorable. Loup doesn’t experience normal human reactions, so she isn’t afraid of anything. Tom worries about her taking too many risks. They are fiercely protective of each other.
While Tom continues to build muscle and boxing skills, Loup joins the Santitos, a group of orphans at the local church. They are raised by a hilariously foul-mouthed priest who lives in sin with two women, the schoolteacher and a nun. God has abandoned Santa Olivia. Religious beliefs are nil but good people still exist.
The Santitos (“little saints”) are a motley crew of hard-knock kids. When one of the older girls is raped by a soldier, they band together to exact some vigilante justice. Soon, anyone who commits a crime against the townspeople is subject to the Santitos’ wrath. Loup disguises herself as “Santa Olivia,” the local deity, and wreaks havoc on the bad guys.
Loup doesn’t even hit puberty until the second half of the book, so the romance comes late. She realizes that she likes girls, not boys, which amuses her brother. When she falls in love with one of the female Santitos, the relationship is sexy and heartfelt.
After years of preparation, Tom enters the ring to fight the military champ, with tragic results. Loup realizes immediately that something is wrong. His opponent is a genetic mutant, like her. She begs Tom to throw the fight, but he refuses. *sob*
I won’t spoil the rest. Although I did find some flaws in the second half, I loved this book. The characters and storyline are incredibly compelling. I wanted a full romance for Loup’s parents. They were hot together! I also appreciated the fact that Loup’s father is black and her mother is Latina. Everything about this story felt fresh and authentic to me. I loved the border setting. The author nails the mix of religion, language, and street culture. All of the characters, even the little kids, curse like sailors. “Santa fuckin’ Olivia!” is a popular expression.
Loup is my favorite type of heroine: the outsider. Her differences have very little to do with her race or sexuality. She’s freakishly strong and doesn’t understand certain emotions. I found this to be a particularly interesting choice on the author’s part. Instead of feeling distanced from Loup, it was almost as if I experienced fear and sadness for her.
If you’re looking for a unique heroine and an all-around great story, READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. It’s excellent.
Today, Jill would like to giveaway a copy of the book! She will gift an e-book copy to a Kindle or Nook. To enter, just leave a comment. Open through Friday.