~by Jacqueline Carey
Somehow I managed to find myself in a situation with only Santa Olivia on hand as suitable reading material. I really had intended to finish Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series before moving onto her other works, but Santa Olivia it was to be. When I first heard about the book at one of Carey's signings a year and a half or so before it was published, I wasn't sure what to think about it. (I don't have a huge interest in boxing, for one thing.) Initially, she was encouraged to release it under a pen name since the novel was so drastically different from anything else that she's done thus far. At some point, that decision was changed and the book has been released under her own name.
Loup Garron is different--she has inherited genetic qualities from a father she never met that sets her apart from everyone in Santa Olivia. She's fast, she's strong, and she feels no fear. She is physically and literally incapable of it. This of course can cause some problems since genetically manipulated humans like her father aren't considered to be people, but property, calling into question her own status. And those living in Santa Olivia, a military buffer zone between the United States and Mexico, aren't even considered citizens anymore, making her situation even more precarious. But perhaps the worst of it, she must grow up hiding who she really is, never allowed the freedom to be completely herself. Life in Santa Olivia, now known only as Outpost, isn't easy for anyone. The only real distractions are the boxing matches sponsored by the presiding general and the promise of free passage to the United States to whomever can defeat the military's champions. For a long time, this was the only source of hope in Santa Olivia, but Loup will change all that.
Although Santa Olivia is dramatically different from the Kushiel books, particularly in style, there are a few things that struck me as similar. Carey has a knack for kick-butt and unusual heroines and thoroughly exploring intriguing ideas. I liked Loup quite a bit; the concept of a person who feels no fear isn't a new one, but I've never seen it handled in quite the way, or as completely, as Carey does in Santa Olivia. She delves into the extent this ability penetrates a person's life--how their way of thinking and even their relationships are subtly, and not so subtly, different.
I really enjoyed Santa Olivia. However, I do find that it's one of those books that's difficult to describe to others and still convey how good a book it actually is. Carey brings together seemingly random elements--boxing, religious icons, cute girls, and basically what amounts to superpowers--and makes it work. The story was great, and I found myself caught up in Loup's struggles. My heart was literally pounding as she prepared to step into the ring. With all the injustices throughout the book, the ending did seem to tie up a little too easily and nicely, but it did make me happy. At a recent signing, Carey mentioned that she would like to write a sequel, but currently she doesn't have any definite plans or ideas for it. Either way, I'm very glad that I ended up reading Santa Olivia sooner rather than later because I loved it. It's definitely one of the better books I've read recently.