By Jacqueline Carey
It took me awhile to pick up the Kushiel books. In fact, all of Phedre's trilogy had been published when I started. I fell in love with Carey's writing, though I know some found it too purple. Then I was impressed by BANEWREAKER and GODSLAYER, where she wrote a different type of fantasy and used a different style. Then came Imriel's trilogy, where she used the same style as with Phedre, but managed to convey a completely different voice. Now she's ventured into the realm of standalone, with SANTA OLIVIA. In this one, the fantastic elements are highly limited and of a more scientific nature.
It begins with the story of Carmen Garron, who lived in Texas near the Mexican border. Not a bad place to live, until the area is cordoned off due to a pandemic and a search for a criminal. Now the villagers live in a military zone, forgotten by the rest of the world. But Carmen falls in love twice, and has two very different kids.
Boxing is the way out. There's a prizefight periodically, in which a civilian winner can leave with the person of their choice. Tommy Garron is the most promising contender yet. He's loved by the people and his sister, Loup Garron. But they were separated when their mother died - she lives in the orphanage. With her fellow orphans, they seek to teach the soldiers to respect the villagers, using the abilities Loup inherited from her father.
Unfortunately, things can and do go wrong. Loup must make some tough choices, and could end up hurt no matter what she chooses. I enjoyed reading about the fearless but loving Loup, who desires to protect those close to her and give hope for a better future. I liked how Jacqueline Carey handled her sexuality, making it not that big of a deal. I liked Tommy, who was a good kid, and the orphans, who were also good kids. I liked Miguel, who wasn't a good kid, but was learning to be a better man once he started associating with people who expected more of him that thuggish behavior.
Carey developed a harsh setting, but she populated it with motivated and good-hearted characters. (Not to say there aren't those who aren't filled with spite and ruin things for other people.) She uses language well to evoke the setting, though it begins with way too many uses of the word "fuck." It either lightens up when the story focuses on Tommy and Loup, or I started blanking it out more.
I enjoyed the fairytale ending, even though many fates were still unknown. Loup deserved her happiness. While I am partial to superher stories and Jacqueline Carey, that does mean there's more room for disappointment. But this one satisfied me quite well. (For the younger readers of my blog: You might want to wait on this one due to the sex and language. Or not, if you an handle it. Know what you're comfortable with.)