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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jacqueline Carey: SANTA OLIVIA

Plot Type for book 1: Dystopian UF
Plot Type for book 2: CH Fantasy
 Ratings:  V-3; S-4; H-3 
Publisher and Titles:   
      Santa Olivia (2009)
      Saints Astray (2011)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 12/11/11 to include a review of the second book in the series: Saints Astray. That review follows this overview of the series so far:  

     Rocky meets Million Dollar Baby, with a sprinkling of X-Men. This series doesn't quite meet my definition of paranormal, but it's such a fresh take on modern fantasy that I couldn't resist including it here.

     In this dystopian world, a virulent flu pandemic has swept the world, and the U.S. has closed its borders to prevent its spread. Southern Texas has become a walled-off, militarized buffer zone, populated by its original citizens (now non-citizens with no civil rights), who exist in isolated, settlements called Outposts, and the soldiers, who live on their bases but spend time in the Outposts, either running patrols or partying in the bars with the local women. 

     The series focuses on Outpost No. 12, with its usual small-town gangs, church, commerce, and—most importantorphans (the Santitos). Santa Olivia is the former name of Outpost No. 12, and it is also the name of the town's patron saint, a young girl who brought peace to fighting armies. Her legend has a powerful influence on the story.  

    Based on themes of coming of age, first love, overcoming differences, and beating the odds, the story follows half-siblings Tommy and Loup (pronounced Lou) Garron as they grow to young adulthood and face their fates. Tommy loses himself in boxing, becoming Outpost's single greatest hope of winning at least one battle against the military, in the shape of a highly touted soldier opponent. Loup eventually takes up Tommy's battle and finds her own boxing-related destiny. The supernatural connection is Loup's father, Martin, a genetically engineered superhuman mutant, who was created by venal scientists like the ones frequently encountered in paranormal fiction (always trying to create that perfect, indestructible soldier). For most of her life, Loup must hide her superhuman traits for fear of being imprisoned and studied by the military, but when the Santitos decide to right some wrongs in Outpost, Loup decides that she must contribute her genetic gifts to the cause.

   The violence occurs primarily in the boxing scenes, and also in a fight between the Santitos and a gang affiliated with one of Outpost's mafia-like power brokers. The sensuality simmers in the love scenes involving Loup and her true love. The humor emanates from the give and take of the relationships among the Santitos and others in Outpost, particularly between Loup and Miguel Garza, who begins as an irredeemable jerk and ends as one of Loup's most fervent supporters.  

     One last thing: Even though there are many references to loup garou (werewolves) in the story (and in Loup's name), this is definitely NOT a werewolf tale. This synopsis is based entirely on the first book of the series.

***   ***   *****   ***   ***
      Unfortunately, the second book in this series is quite a disappointment. Instead of a riveting follow-up to Loup and Pilar's harrowing escape, we get a cutesy, light-weight, lesbian adventure story as the two lovers are hired as body guards by a global security company. First, they head off to Scotland for training, and then they land big-time body-guarding jobs in Italy, Australia, and Japan, where they are hugely successful at everything they do and make lots of money. No matter where they go, everybody loves them becausedoggone it!they're just so darned cute and wise and brave, etc., etc. Eventually, Loup is hired to work security for a famous British rock group and Pilar comes along as a bartender and personal assistant. Before long, Loup has become the band's world-famous and beloved "Mystery Girl" as she lifts over-zealous fans over her head and drops them back into the crowd in front of the stage. Her iconic image even appears on the band's tee-shirts. Of course, the girls are getting paid fabulous salaries, so there is also a lot of shopping. (Really, I'm not making this up.) 

     At the very end of the book, the Outpost 12 situation finally eases back into the story when Loup and the band head for Washington, D.C., where the band plans a huge concert to publicize the plight of the inhabitants of Outpost 12.

     Compared to the gritty darkness of book 1, Saints Astray is as light and insubstantial as dandelion fluff. Pilar and Loup can hardly keep their hands off each other through most of the story, and all of their love scenes share the same sappy and cloying tone. Their various exploits are so incredibly preposterous that I had trouble finishing the book. Imagine...these two teenagers have spent their entire lives isolated from civilizationwith no books, newspapers, no TV, no computers, and no telephones. They know absolutely nothing about popular culture and even less about world geography and history. As the book begins, they are overcome with awe by Mexico City, with its millions of people, streets full of cars, restaurants with all-you-can-eat fresh food, and big hotels with elevators and room service. When they are told that they will be trained in Scotland, they have no idea where that is. When they get there, they don't understand how time zones work. But...within six weeks, they magically become excellent marksmen, computer-savy consumers, skilled smart-phone users, sophisticated world travelers, excellent drivers, and world-famous icons of freedom. My advice on this series is to stop with book 1.

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