Select one of the keywords
Santa Olivia    by Jacqueline Carey order for
Santa Olivia
by Jacqueline Carey
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jacqueline Carey, best known for her hugely popular Kushiel series, brings readers something very different - but equally enthralling in Santa Olivia. It's a story set in a near future, in which a pandemic has spread and devastated Mexico. The United States, also hit hard, has created Outpost 12, an artificial buffer zone between Texas and Mexico, in order to contain the disease. Martial law rules there and the inhabitants (once U.S. citizens) are forced to remain in an area, through which new outbreaks of flu regularly spread.

Denizens of Outpost survive in any way they can, most by providing services to the army, some by preying on their fellows. Refusing to prostitute herself as so many women do, Carmen Garron waitresses in a diner. She has a son, Tom, by a soldier-lover, who is killed by a bomb. Still grieving, Carmen meets a man, Martin, who turns out to have a very unusual history. He's one of the Lost Boys, twenty human genetic hybrids, with increased strength, endurance, speed, and metabolism - and no fear. They grew up in a laboratory, studied by the military. Martin and Carmen have a daughter, Loup, before the threat of discovery forces him to flee south.

General Argyle, who rules Outpost 12 with an iron hand, has a passion for boxing. He's brought in his old friend, Floyd Roberts, as a trainer, and runs monthly matches between soldiers and locals in the town square. As an ultimate prize, he's offered any local who beats the army champion safe passage north to freedom with a companion. After a new flu outbreak kills Carmen, Loup is taken in by Father Ramon and Sister Martha, who do their best to look after the orphans the town call Santitos, despite Ramon not being a real priest and Martha far from a nun. Tom has taught Loup as best he can to hide her abilities and her lack of fear. He works for Floyd Roberts and trains as a boxer, hoping to one day win an escape for his beloved sister, before the army discovers what she is.

Over time, the Santitos discover - and keep - Loup's secret. Together, they take careful action (reminiscent of Zorro) against some of the injustices that are rife in Outpost, Loup posing as 'the spirit of Santa Olivia'. Tom trains hard and becomes the town's hope for an escape for two of their number from what is essentially slavery. Then tragedy strikes, and Loup takes Tom's place, training secretly with a sympathetic Floyd Roberts for another match, one that will pit Santa Olivia herself against the army's champion. But it's a no win situation for Loup, as success will reveal her genetic inheritance to the army and turn her into an experimental subject, just as her father was.

Seems like it can't end well, but Carey provides a highly satisfying conclusion to this excellent story, in which her young heroine becomes, through her willingness for self-sacrifice, a 'catalyst for change, hope, faith.' I highly recommend Santa Olivia, not only to Carey's current fans, but to anyone who enjoys an outstanding, gripping, and in many ways credible near-future thriller.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more SF books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews