Retro Friday Review : Santa Olivia

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!

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Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
Pages : 341
Genre : Dystopia, Sci-Fi, GLBT
Series : Santa Olivia, Book 1
My Rating : 

From Goodreads :

Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive “Wolf-Man” who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated by the US government, engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear.

Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider. After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: they form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town.

My Thoughts :

I read Santa Olivia in 2009 and loved it so much, I couldn’t write a review for it. I wanted to do the book justice, and in the end, I never found the right words. Go me!

This book was a great experience for me on two levels : first for the book itself, and secondly because it was one of the few books that both the Man of the House and I read, which means we got to talk about it. He is a huge fan of Carey’s fantasy series, but this book was my first time reading her, and I just fell in love with her writing. There is something different about it, something I couldn’t pinpoint but, combined with great story and characters, made the book a compulsory read for me.

While not the most original out there, the idea, a kind of “superhero-meets-government-conspiracies” story, was really intriguing. But what hook me into the story, really, was the character of Loup. I’ve met few characters that had that quality of both puzzling me and being easy to figure out. And I know it does sound contradictory, but it’s still true. The fact that, physically, she wasn’t completely “normal” made her motivations and her reactions clear enough; the fact that she wasn’t “normal” also placed her in a different spot than the rest of the characters, or than the readers, meaning that her reactions were often different than what you would expect from a “normal” person.

The romance between Loup and Pilar also plays an important part in the story, and I loved how contemporary it felt. For me, that relationship was one of the really strong points of the book : everything Loup felt, I felt through the words. Also, I loved having a non heterosexual main character in a book, without the book being all about dealing with sexual identities. It is part of the story, a really important one, but it’s really not the only focus, and while books dealing with GLBT issues are a necessity, I believe it is also necessary to show that a GLBT character can have a story outside of his/her sexual identity – that sexual identity, while important, isn’t the only thing defining an individual.

I did think the book had some faults. I felt like some aspects of the setting weren’t fully explored or explained, that many questions were left unanswered. At the time, there wasn’t a second book planned, so that really puzzled me. I still loved it though, because sometimes when it comes to books, I’m just irrational like that : I see the flaws and I choose to ignore them. I’m not the only one, right?

Although Santa Olivia is NOT a teen/YA novel, it would be really on trend with many YA books currently on the market :  it has a dystopian world where a disease made most people sick, it’s a bit futuristic without being full-on sci-fi, there’s a government gone bad, action, a strong female lead, etc. But since there are many YA readers who are, like me, of grown up age, I think it might be something that would interest some of you too! 🙂

I’m placing this one on my shelf and planning on re-reading it soon, hopefully, as book two is on its way for October. Yay!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Santa Olivia
  2. Saints Astray (coming October 2011)

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3 responses to “Retro Friday Review : Santa Olivia”

  1. BermudaOnion says :

    I don’t read much fantasy, but my sister loves it so I’ll tell her about this book.

  2. zibilee says :

    Oh, so glad you liked this one! I tried to read another book by Carey and just had no luck with it at all. I am not sure what was wrong, but I just couldn’t lose myself in it. I am happy to hear that this one might be worth reading!

  3. Ceri says :

    That kind of superhuman meets government conspiracy thing this book has going on makes it sound like something my dad would read and try to get me to read. I love those kind of modern day fantasy stories.

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