Jacqueline Carey is best known for her epic fantasy Kushiel series, but her most recent novel blazes new trails with a blend of science fiction, fantasy and real-world “what if.” Santa Olivia touches on subjects such as genetic engineering and government power.
When the “sickness” arrives and begins its toxic spread, the U.S. government orders a wall built between us and Mexico. Later, a second wall is built, creating a no-man’s land along the border. The town of Santa Olivia is caught between them, and both it and the inhabitants officially cease to exist. The town becomes a military base, with the townspeople made virtual prisoners.
One day a man passes through: a man claiming to be a genetically engineered super-soldier. After departing, he leaves no sign of his presence … except for a child. Loup Garron grows up knowing that she’s different from her friends, but with very little idea of who – or what – she really is.
But she does possess courage. In an effort to right some of the wrongs perpetrated by the soldiers, she takes on the guise of the town’s patron saint, Santa Olivia. Her actions snowball into a series of events that no one could have predicted.
The plot of Santa Olivia is quite loose: people trying to escape misery and restrictions. The book shines because of its atmosphere. Although the town appears nominally normal, the army occupation underlies everything. Curfews and patrols are constant, and soldiers drop in and out of the story as they rotate through their duties.
Readers shouldn’t expect a huge plot resolution, because the story centers on Loup: How she fits into the community is the actual story. Loup is an outcast by her very genetics, able to do things that no one else can, and she’s well aware of this. Despite how it might sound, she’s a well-rounded character, and she fits perfectly into a scenario where things never are quite what they seem.
Different from anything that Carey has written to date, but all the more engrossing for its very uniqueness, Santa Olivia will grab you and not let go.
Also by this author: Banewrecker, Dark Currents, Godslayer, Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Justice, Kushiel’s Mercy, Kushiel’s Scion
This review appeared in the Davis Enterprise on June 18, 2009.