I’m writing this quickly as my granddaughter sleeps. Amazing how easily we forget how much work babies are! She likes playing kissy games with Grandma when she’s awake and not grumpy, though. That makes up for a lot!
Today I’m reviewing Saints Astray by Jacqueline Carey. It’s a continuation of the story she started in Santa Olivia, which I highly recommend. In fact, I might as well review both of them. I should warn you, there may be spoilers here.
In Santa Olivia, Carey constructs a very believable near-present-day situation. A plague has gone around the world and wiped out large portions of humanity. When it was at its worst, the US government built a wall against the Mexican border and surrounded some small border towns, isolating them and declaring their inhabitants not only not citizens, but nonexistent. The people were encouraged to stay to provide services for the military. No services are provided for the people. The society in the town degenerates quickly into a gang-run government supported by the military because it provides a single point of contact with the community. Even the name of the towns taken over this way is eliminated; they become Outposts. The story takes place in Outpost #12, previously known as Santa Olivia after the town’s patron saint.
The main character, Loup Garron, was fathered by a soldier genetically modified by the government who planned to marry Loup’s mother. Unfortunately, he had to leave before Loup was born. The general in charge of Outpost #12 has promised any citizen who succeeds in winning a boxing match with the best boxer among the soldiers two tickets out of Outpost #12. Loup’s brother trains long and hard to win the tickets for himself and Loup, but is killed in the ring by accident. Loup, now orphaned, takes the guise of Santa Olivia to avenge the townspeople, knowing that she will lose her freedom and maybe her life if she is caught.
From the beginning, Santa Olivia is written with humor and compassion. Loup Garron is an engaging character who easily finds a place in the reader’s heart. She never views herself as a victim, willingly using her inherited abilities to retaliate against the military for their abuse of people who no longer have any rights or even legal existence. The theme of the book is justice for the underdog, including Loup at the end. I really enjoyed this book, often laughing out loud and crying occasionally. If I were rating this book on a five-star system. I would give it six.
Saints Astray,starts where Santa Olivia ends. Loup and her girlfriend Pilar have escaped Santa Olivia and are headed for a town in Mexico populated by other children of the genetically manipulated soldiers. The original men have died, but their children are very much alive. For the first time in her life, Loup is accepted for what she is. She and Pilar take jobs with a security company whose primary interest is in Loup. The company provides high-priced bodyguards for numerous international celebrities, who are always interested in something new. Pilar accompanies Loup on her bodyguard assignments, being billed as a high-powered administrator and organizer
Back in the US, an investigation of the Outposts has begun, with Miguel Garza, the other Outpost #12 citizen who Loup helped get to the outside world, as a major witness. When he disappears, Loup decides she has to rescue him, even though she is an outlaw in the US. If she is captured, she will be imprisoned with no possible escape. She is determined to go ahead, because no one else will fight for the freedom of the people in Santa Olivia.
If anything, Saints Astray is an even better book than Santa Olivia. Loup finds acceptance in the world for the first time but chooses to capitalize on her difference to bring attention to the Outposts. She chooses to help Miguel even though she is risking her freedom to do so. Over and over again, Loup chooses the greater good over her own because it’s the right thing to do. While this book could have been preachy and serious, Carey again employs humor and hope while never downplaying what Loup is up against. Saints Astray is about the triumph of the individual over the impersonal evil of government gone overboard.
As a side note, the reactions of Loup and Pilar when they discover how much technology exists in the world outside Outpost #12 are hilarious. It’s nice to see technology as something that allows people to exceed their reach rather than a dehumanizing influence.
As you can tell, I enjoyed both these books immensely and could not recommend them more highly. I hope you find them as much fun as I did.