Santa Olivia (Jacqueline Carey)

Santa Olivia is the first novel in the Santa Olivia series by Jacqueline Carey.
Finished on: 5.12.2020

Santa Olivia is a small town caught in the no man’s land between the USAmerican and the Mexican border wall. Officially, neither the town, nor its people exist – there is just the USAmerican military base next to it. And yet, here they are. Among the people in Santa Olivia is Loup, daughter of an escaped enhanced human out of a military project and one of the poor women of Santa Olivia who fell in love with the fugitive. But her father had to move on and her mother died, so Loup only has her bigger half-brother Tom to take care of her. Growing up in an orphanage, careful not to show the superstrength and -speed that she inherited from her father, Loup soon finds that the town may be in need of a hero. Only, what can a single hero really do?

I remember grabbing Santa Olivia a few years ago from a bargain bin somewhere and having finally read it, I am very glad I did. It is an interesting take on superheros, set in a highly political world and has a queer protagonist. It’s basically everything I could have hoped for.

The book cover showing a woman in a long blue blowing coat, her face in shadows.

Santa Olivia was an addictive read that I basically absorbed in a couple of days. It does take a little to get started, though – the first few chapters are basically an extended prologue and don’t read so much like somebody telling you a story but somebody retelling a story they heard or a book they read. Once Loup becomes a teenager, though, and the proper story starts, things absolutely fly by.

Loup was a great protagonist – and not just because she’s a queer (she falls in love with a woman, the only person she ever feels sexually attracted to) latina. Her superhuman/metahuman/enhanced human status means that in some ways Loup is unlike everybody else around her – which can be read as a stand-in for neurodiversity to a certain extent. Part of the enhancement she inherited from her father includes feeling no fear and Carey emphasizes the negative aspects of that: fear exists for a reason and if you don’t feel it, you have to do some extra thinking, some extra risk assessment, to stand in for that.

This is one way how Loup differs from other superheroes where it is usually used as the reason for all kinds of stunts. Another way is that Carey makes sure to show us how ineffectual a single superhero actually is. That doesn’t mean that a single person can’t ever change things, but most problems can’t be punched out of existence – especially not when they are systemic. And the problems here most definitely are very systemic.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is actually a sequel to Santa Olivia. The book is self-contained enough that it wouldn’t have been necessary, but there are many ways that the story can be developed further – and I’m looking forward to discovering what she’ll come up with next.

Summarizing: Excellent.

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