by Jacqueline Carey
Format: Paperback, 341 pages
Publisher: Grand Central
Cover Design: Alan Ayers
Release Date: May 29, 2009
In the near future, a flu pandemic races around the world. The United States decides to close off its borders and the town of Santa Olivia, near the Texas/Mexico border, is placed in a buffer zone and occupied by the military. The inhabitants are no longer citizens. They are cutoff from the rest of the country with the army being the only link to the outside world. After the buffer zone is in place, the only way to leave is to win a boxing match sponsored by the general of the garrison. However, no one has ever won.
One day an unlikely heroine is born. Her father was a deserter who had been genetically engineered with superhuman abilities and Loup Garron has inherited many of his gifts. As Loup grows into a young woman, she takes on the persona of the town’s patron saint to correct the injustices committed by the military occupiers. She soon comes to embody Santa Olivia’s hopes and dreams.
Santa Olivia is a very character-driven story. It first focuses on Loup’s mother and older brother before following the main character as she grows up. As can be expected from being cut off from the world, life in the town is not easy. Life is also hard for Loup as she loses her mother at a young age. Before she dies, her mother arranges for her to be raised with the orphans cared for by the church and they become her new family.
Loup’s family of orphans becomes the catalyst for the creation of her alter ego as Santa Olivia. The children band together to mete correct injustice and create miracles. I liked how every one of the orphan’s contributed to Loup’s role as Santa Olivia without any of them overshadowing the others. When Loup’s brother dies in the ring, she becomes determined to win not only for him and for the town, but to find her place in the world.
The only real negative thing that jumped out at me is that since the majority of the characters are teenagers, the emotions and relationships are at the same level. I just couldn’t help rolling my eyes at some of the teenage romance stuff. It’s only a minor complaint as it’s a small part of the story. And though I would have preferred a little more plot, I did enjoyed Carey’s focus the characters. This was my first novel by Carey and now I'm planning to check out the rest of her books.
Santa Olivia is a good character-driven superhero story, one that can be enjoyed by fans of both the author and the genre. Recommended.