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VINE VOICEon 22 September 2009
In the future, Mexico has gone to war against the United States, necessitating the creation of buffer zones. Santa Olivia lies within this buffer zone, the inhabitants stripped of all rights, privileges, and luxuries, no longer citizens of the United States. Carmen Garron is one of those citizens, looking for love against the odds, and temporarily finding it twice. Her second love has been genetically engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sight, but has a complete lack of fear. He is also infertile, or at least they think so until Carmen conceives a child, named Loup Garron for her fugitive father. As Loup grows to maturity in a church, she takes on the guise of Santa Olivia, providing justice to the town in a way no one else imagined, and taking huge risks to stand up for the rights she knows they deserve.

If this novel had not had Jacqueline Carey emblazoned on the cover, I would never have realized it was her. Her writing is still gorgeous, but in a totally different way from her Kushiel series. It's rougher, to match this serious urban fantasy, but still retains a beauty and grace that is unmistakably Carey once it's more carefully examined. When she uses a bird in Carmen's heart to describe her youthful hope and love in an elegant, but not melodramatic way, I fell in love:

'In between the fourth and fifth rounds, Carmen Garron slipped through the crowd, made her way to the outside of the soldier's corner. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her.

"Hi there." He slid one muscled, sweaty arm through the ropes, touched her hand with his gloved fist.

The bird in her heart warbled.'

I could read Jacqueline Carey's books all year and never get bored.

This is a completely different type of urban fantasy than most of what is found on the bookstore shelf. It is a gritty, hard reality, a world in which there is no hope. There are no vampires or witches, just genetically engineered humans who are ostacized from society. Somehow, Loup Garron shines in this world, an enigmatic main character that is different enough to make her special and human enough to make her real. Loup provides not only hope to the people of Santa Olivia, but to readers; she's the embodiment of determination and spirit. The werewolf, without turning into a wolf, concept is cleverly done even if rarely mentioned. Loup's strength sets her apart but her desire to be at least mostly normal brings her into a group of orphans who provide the backbone for her inspiring journey. She doesn't quite fit in, but that just makes us love her all the more. Meanwhile, the town of Santa Olivia is a terrifying potential reality. It's unlikely but just real enough to strike fear in our hearts and cause us to hope for Loup's success.

To be honest, I don't love this book as much as I love any of the Kushiel's Legacy series. In some sense, though, that is like comparing apples to oranges, since they are so different in feel, setting, scope, and character development. Santa Olivia is a great read all on its own and that is how it should be judged. As such, I think Carey made a wise move in trying out a different kind of fantasy. A sequel has been proposed, but this book, while somewhat open-ended, ends satisfactorily and left me hopeful for the future.
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on 25 July 2009
I came to this book as someone who'd loved Carey's Kushiel trilogies. What sparkled in those books was the rich vivid characters, the beautifully depicted place settings and - in the first three books - the engaging, sparky voice of the first person narrator Phedre.

This is a very different book. Firstly, it's written in the third person. Carey does this fairly well but it lacks intimacy. This led me to a problem with the book's central character of Loup Garron. Loup has gifts beyond the norm thanks to the genetic engineering that produced her fugitive father. This is essentially her story as she approaches adulthood, although there is some interesting (if not emotionally arresting) background given at the start about her mother and brother. In terms of timeframe, the book appears to have been set at some not to distant future point following an outbreak of civil (multinational?) war with it's frontiers in the US. There is disease and suffering in spades.

Loup grows up in what appears to be no man's land, not fully a US citizen and having to hide her strength and agility and total lack of fear from those around her. And therein lies my second problem - Loup is a very self contained character and it is difficult to get under her skin. She falls in lust (I hesitate to say love), experiences life changing plot devices, and is obviously going to be spirited off to another part of her 'journey' at the close of the book.

There is a good sci-fi story in here - as someone who prefers fantasy and big (but not soppy) emotion, I wasn't hooked at I felt the characterisation did not live up to my expectations from Carey's earlier work. That said, it shows promise and perhaps the second book - which I assume will follow - will open up Loup's rather one dimensional character somewhat.

If you are new to Carey's work and like fantasy, I would suggest you start with Kushiel's Dart as an introduction as Santa Olivia may dissuade you from any future Carey reading. Which would be a shame...
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on 23 September 2013
I'm a fan of Jacqueline Carey from the Terre d'Ange novels, so picking this one up, I was worried it wouldn't live up to that standard. But it did and even went beyond in some areas. The Terre d'Ange, being based on what I imagine the romantic medieval courts (or at least the ideas of courtly love) is all mostly nicely nicely with few enough shades of grey. Even the good guys who go bad and still bad...

In Santa Olivia, that fades away and the people are far more human. It could be because of the modern/futuristic setting, so it's more relatable, but the characters were more rounded earlier in the book as well. This is far grittier than the d'Angelines, so it is enjoyable, but in a different way.

The story itself didn't seem that far fetched to me - I can easily see it happening if the circumstances fell in line, which is partly my own cynicism and partly Ms Carey's writing. The lead character is strong but has to develop and her naivety gets tarnished fairly late on really, despite all her antics.

I bought the second book when I was half way through the first one - a testiment to my enjoyment!
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on 4 June 2011
I loved Carey's writing so much. It's in third person and always from Loup's POV. So much detail is packed in but it's not overpowering. I got complete impressions of the characters, the town and the difficulties of being forgotten by the rest of the world.

This book is so hard to categorise. It is part fantasy, seems to appeal to the urban fantasy types and would almost be YA if it wasn't for the sex and swearing. It's also like reading Rocky in parts, what with all of the boxing and training. I think it has sci-fi elements with the whole genetic engineering thing going on. I wish that particular plot point was explored more but it may be covered in the sequel.

On top of it all, it is basically a werewolf novel without the wolf. Even Loup's name (pronounced 'Lou') is a play on loup-garou, the French for 'werewolf'.

The main characters of the orphans were well rounded. Despite the fact there are seven or so of them, they all had distinct personalities. To be honest, the vast majority of the main characters were well rounded.

I felt the ending was a bit rushed. I would have loved to have read more of the boxing finale, being a bit of a fan of the sport. And there were questions I would have liked answered but, again, the sequel may answer these.
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on 21 May 2014
I really loved this book. I ended up staying up just to read "one more chapter...okay, now just one more chapter", and before I knew it I had come to the end. I felt that the ending was a little rushed, but I can't fault anything else about Santa Olivia.

There is a great romance for Loup that doesn't put her love interest up on a pedestal - they both make mistakes and bad choices, but that's what makes this book so great. All the characters are very much human and complex, even those who might be considered the antagonist or 'evil villain' in any other dystopia themed novel.

This really was a great read and it kept my attention throughout. I'd highly recommend it.
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on 24 February 2011
I have read and much enjoyed Carey's first Kushiel trilogy; I enjoy her writing style; her characters and often convoluted plots and I chose this book, not sure if I liked the plot line from the back cover. I bought three books that day; each by a different author and actually started this book last perhaps because I feared disappointment.

I was wrong to have any doubts - I read a great deal of sci-fi and fantasy; it does not make me an expert critic but I can appreciate a story-line that hooks me and wants me to read more, a set of characters that you feel sympathy for and as you turn the page hope to see their lives somehow improve. Furthermore, I rarely write a review; but am moved to do so over this book simply because the plot and the characters are so beautifully rounded, without the writer gushing over great detail.

When one is aware that over three quarters of the book has been read and you start to wonder how many pages are left and that sense of loss takes over you simply because you want this to continue - then you know you have read something special - it's a feeling I have rarely, but certainly found with this book.

I look forward to reading it again in the future - but will leave it for some while yet, simply because I want some of the freshness to return when I pick it up again.

It is not like the Kushiel trilogies; something special and very much the better for it.
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on 21 January 2010
I am also a huge Kushiel fan, so was very excited about a new Jacqueline Carey novel considering her work was "an intoxicating mix of intrigue, eroticism and fantasy ...". I was really disappointed with Santa Olivia; I found it dry, lacking soul, no real sense of adventure, no power struggles and very unemotional romance. The third party narration didn't spark anything in me. I read it almost in the same manner Loup approached her food - steady and methodical, and when I finished a chapter and put the book down I had already mentally moved on. The story didn't stay with me unlike the Kushiel books which I thought about even in my sleep.

I finished the book feeling a little empty.
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on 29 July 2010
I love Jacqueline Carey's books, but unfortunately I just didn't enjoy this story. There was no "soul" to the characters and I found myself not caring about them. This book, in my opinion, was not in the same league as her previous novels.
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on 2 June 2009
Let me start by saying that this book is very much unlike Carey's other books and to be able to pull of such a change of voice is a credit to her writing skill.

This is a rare book with vivid characters and a wonderful deeply emotional story. What I liked very much was that that Carey seems to make it a point that there's no black & white. There's no traditional villain, no one is all evil or all good, the story is driven by other things. It's a story of personal survival and it's also a case study of how life would be if you couldn't feel fear. In that sense it's almost philosophical, even if I wished it had been fleshed out more.

Either way, it's one of those rare books that linger in your mind long after you read them. Enjoy, it's well worth it.
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on 28 September 2014
A good story although a little unbelievable in places. I give it only 4 stars because it does not match the excellence of the Kushiel's series.
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