ABOUT: Lushly written with rich and vivid characters, SANTA OLIVIA is Jacqueline Carey's take on comic book superheroes and the classic werewolf myth.
MY REVIEW: In a small Texas town near the Mexican border, a deadly plague ravages the population. The military takes drastic measures to stop the diseased villagers from fleeing across the border into the United States. Towns like Santa Olivia are reduced to no-nationality outposts in the US Army zone, and are completely cut off from the rest of the world.
The novel begins with the focus on a young woman, Carmen Garron. One of many displaced former citizens, Carmen is just trying to get by in Santa Olivia. Her first true love is a soldier and after he is killed, she gives birth to his son, Tommy. Years later, after resigning herself to never loving again, she meets Martin, a drifter. But Martin is not an ordinary man. He is one of the “Lost Boys” – a group of young children secret experimented on in the jungles of Haiti. His DNA was genetically altered to give him intense physical strength, speed and the inability to ever feel fear. Though Martin is a wanted man, Carmen falls deeply in love with him, but sadly, he is forced to leave Santa Olivia forever. After Martin leaves, Carmen gives birth to a baby girl Loup (pronounced Lou), who will one day rise to become an unlikely heroine.
Flash forward many years later and we find Loup living in the church's orphange among her newfound friends, "The Santitos". When the military turns a blind eye on a crime against one of the Santitos, Loup assumes the visage of the town’s saint “Santa Olivia”. She begins doling out justice in her own fashion. With the help of the Santitos, Loup concocts a succession of brilliantly hatched plans against those who have gone unpunished in their crimes against Santa Olivia. The town begins to come alive with rumors that Santa Olivia has once again returned to protect them. Villagers bring gifts to her shrine and spray paint desperate prayers on building walls. Though her true identity remains a mystery, Loup becomes a celebrated vigilante hero among the people. She continues to serve retribution for those with no voice, no rights and no hope.
All the characters of this novel were impeccably written with distinct personalities. Loup was a fascinating character. Although she couldn't feel fear, she did experience every other range of human emotion - especially anger, love and heartbreak. When she let her guard down, and showed her true self, that's when I was most compelled by the book. As for the orphans, I loved their individual personalities and they were what really drew me into the storyline. The compassionate quiet Mack and the flirtatious, fiery Pilar were my two favorites. I also enjoyed how Miguel Garza's character progressed from the typical villain, to Loup’s reluctant sparring partner, and then finally, to a real friend.
This novel was not as I expected it to be. It is currently marketed as an urban fantasy/superhero novel, but readers should recognize that it's grounded more in science, not the supernatural. For mainstream fiction readers who enjoy paranormal elements without the gore, this could be a good crossover book for them as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jacqueline Carey is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Kushiel's Legacy series of historical fantasy novels and The Sundering epic fantasy duology.
An avid reader, Jacqueline began writing fiction as a hobby in high school. After receiving B.A. degrees in psychology and English literature from Lake Forest College, she took part in a work exchange program and spent six months working in a bookstore in London. While living abroad, the desire to write professionally emerged as a driving passion. Upon returning she embarked in earnest on a writing career, which came to fruition a decade later. During this time she worked at the art center of an area college, gaining a strong background in the visual arts. Jacqueline enjoys doing research on a wide variety of arcane topics, and an affinity for travel has take her from Finland to Egypt to date.
She currently lives in west Michigan, where she is a member of the oldest Mardi Gras krewe in the state. Although often asked by inquiring fans, she does not, in fact, have any tattoos.