BOOK BUTTERFLY's Reviews > Santa Olivia

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
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Jun 05, 2009

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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. The DNA of the boys was altered with that of wolves, giving them the defining characteristics of intense physical strength, speed and the inability to ever feel fear. Martin and Carmen fall deeply in love, but sadly, he is forced to leave Santa Olivia forever. Carmen gives birth to a baby girl Loup (pronounced Lou), who will oneday rise to become an unlikely heroine.

As the years progress, we find that Carmen has succombed to the latest wave of plague running rampant through the town. At this point, the novel shifts almost entirely to Loup. Unable to support his sister, Tommy reluctantly places her in the hands of the town church to live with the other orphans of Santa Olivia. He still maintains contact with his sister and constantly warns her to be “careful” – something that has been ingrained in her from childhood. For if the army learned of her genetic heritage, they would immediately have taken her away. Since Loup is unable to feel fear, it is often hard for her to know what is dangerous or what will draw unwanted attention. Up until her mother died, she had lived most of her life constrained under the burden of her heritage.

Loup ends up confiding in her newfound friends at the orphanage about her unique abilities. The orphans (or “Santitos”) are loyal to her and prove to be true friends. Meanwhile, Tommy dedicates himself to learning to be a great boxer. He hopes to beat the Army champion and gain two tickets out of the village for the both of them. His fierce dedication and strong character enable him to become the town’s most promising boxing contender, and eventually Loup will be inspired to take on that role herself.

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 harmed the villagers. Suddenly the town becomes alive with rumors that Santa Olivia has returned to protect them. Desperate for something to believe in, they bring gifts to the shrine of their revered saint 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-

It was impressive how all the characters 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. The most poignant moments for me were when Loup was finally able to be herself, and shed her facade of being “normal”. When she was let go and showed her true strength, that’s when I was really enthralled.

From the compassionate, quiet Mack to the flirtatious and fiery Pilar, all the orphans added a certain level of endearment to the novel. I also enjoyed Coach Roberts. He was the quintessential gruff boxing coach who showed a caring heart underneath an abrasive exterior. Miguel Garza was another multi layered character and I enjoyed seeing his character progress from the typical villain, to Loup’s reluctant sparring partner, and then finally, to a real friend. I was also moved by the plights of the disillusioned villagers of Santa Olivia. I could feel the oppressive hunger of a people clinging to the hope that one day, there will be something to believe in again.

Breathing new life back into the town through their courageous acts, Loup and the orphans gave the people their faith back, something I found very moving. The final “Fight” scene had me on pins and needles. When Loup was walking through the crowd, it was very much a “Rocky” type moment and I held my breath in anticipation of what would happen in the ring –

The crowd quieted, uncertain, seeing only a smaller-than-expected figure in a vivid blue robe. She pushed back her hood. It could have been a loose white kerchief slipping from her hair.

The soldiers in the bleachers erupted in howls of laughter, hoots of derision, and catcalls of disappointment. But among the Outposters in the square, there was a hush as her name went around, its meaning dawning on them…

And on the heels of that revelation, a second significance dawned. A girl in a blue dress; a girl in a blue robe.

“Santa Olivia!” someone shouted.

Others took up the cry. “Santa Olivia! Santa Olivia!”
This novel was not as I expected it to be. It is marketed as an urban fantasy/superhero novel, and readers looking for more traditional paranormal fare should recognize that it's grounded in science, not supernatural. In a market dominated by leather clad shape shifters with bad attitudes, this was a refreshing and welcome twist. For mainstream fiction readers who enjoy paranormal elements without the gore, this would be a good crossover book as well. Political undertones also prevailed throughout this book, all of which were believable. The author took elements from current events, and twisted the ramifications into a believable parable of what could really happen when war and widespread disease collide. As for the romance, I would say it was handled tactfully and never seemed too graphic for me. However, parents should preview this book before giving it to younger readers as some of the language and sexuality might not be age appropriate.

BOTTOM LINE: Santa Olivia is a coming of age tale, a fight novel and a love story all rolled into one and I enjoyed it immensely.

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