Book Review: Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey 9780446198172, $13.99
Published May 2009

I have been a Jacqueline Carey addict since high school. That is when my sister and I first discovered the Kushiel series. I honestly don't remember who discovered it first. I think it was me, but I'm never quite sure, and anyway, we were pretty much trading those books back and forth from the moment either of us found them. The Kushiel series is 6 books - two trilogies combined to make a series. There is soon going to be a new spin-off book, Naamah's Kiss, published in June 2009. I haven't read that one yet, but will review it as soon as I have.

Santa Olivia is not of that series. Santa Olivia is a different beast entirely, but one that has proven just as effective by sinking its claws into me. Carey has this incredible ability to create new worlds out of something that seems so familiar. For instance, this story takes place in an isolated town in the no-man's-land border between the United States and Mexico - perfectly plausible, given the state of the world today. Not a part of either country, the U.S. military runs the town that surrounds the military base. The people of Santa Olivia (the town) have been forgotten by the world, and it is into this controlled, neglected, forgotten wasteland that Loup Garron is born.

The daughter of a human woman and a genetically-modified "Wolf Man" (a project of the U.S. military - genetically modify humans to make them faster, stronger, fearless, fighters), Loup has been taught by her mother and brother to hide who she is so the military doesn't take her away. Her father was forced to leave for his own safety, before Loup is born, so upon her mother's death, Loup goes to live with the other orphans at the town church. The orphans know her secret and help her to conceal it, while simultaneously working together to right some of the wrongs in the town. Hence, the living legend of Santa Olivia - already the patron saint of the town - is born. When Loup's brother is killed in a boxing match set-up by the commander of the military base, Loup vows to fight and win, even knowing this would mean exposing herself, thus leading to her capture and possible death.

A beautiful side-story is Loup's relationship with her fellow orphans. As a half Wolf-Man, Loup always feels a little different; though they love her, her fellow orphans recognize that difference, especially when they start growing up and pairing off. Loup tries kissing, tries dating, even tries sex, but it is a surprise to them all, with whom Loup actually ends up being. Wolves mate for life, and the love between these two is no exception. But what will become of it, with Loup's fight looming closer and closer? What, and who, will Loup choose? Avenge her brother? Stay with her lover? Be herself? How can she possibly win everything she's fighting for?

I'm not going to give away the ending, but I will say, it in no way disappoints.

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