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Literature / Santa Olivia

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Santa Olivia is a novel written by Jacqueline Carey, whom you may recognize from Kushiel's Legacy. Much lighter fare than those books, Carey once described Santa Olivia as a "post-punk desert urban fantasy about girl’s love and boxing."

Now that I’ve got your attention…

The story begins in Santa Olivia, a small town on the border of Texas and Mexico, sometime in the not-too-distant future. An epidemic hits the world, and Mexico worse than most. A general, Santa Anna, called El Segundo by most, starts causing ruckus in order to get aid from the United States. Things get out of hand, some explosions are had, and when the dust has cleared, a barrier zone is created to keep Mexico out. Santa Olivia, along with a couple other towns here and there, happens to fall in the barrier zone, and so the inhabitants are given a choice. They can either stay, and forfeit their citizenship, or figure out some way to move themselves into the States. Most, being too poor to move, or too rooted in the town, decide to stay. An outpost is built next to the town, and in exchange for supplies and necessities, the town folk provide menial labor, restaurants, bars, and human interaction for the soldiers. One of these particular interactions is boxing. See, the local general doesn’t like many things, but he happens to absolutely love boxing, and brings in various champions for the townsfolk to compete against. He even made a standing offer: any townsfolk who actually won a match would be granted passage out of the outpost and into the States, along with one other person of their choosing.


One particular girl living in the town is named Carmon Garron. She’s young, pretty, lives with her cousin, and makes just enough money waiting tables at a local diner that she can scrap by for herself and her son. One day, however, she meets Martin. Martin, she quickly discovers, isn’t entirely normal, but this doesn’t stop a passionate affair from brewing. Unfortunately, Martin is discovered, and is forced to leave the outpost just after finding out he’s managed to impregnate Carmon.

The child, named Loup, turns out to be different like Martin is. Which is a problem, because the government would love to get their hands on her, and she’s not terribly good at hiding.

This is mostly backstory, however. The majority of the plot revolves around Loup’s interactions with the townsfolk and other people her age as she grows from a child to a teen to a young adult. Romance and drama and action and life lessons are delivered unto Loup, and by extension, the reader, in a concise little coming-of-age story. About girl's love and boxing.


The first book, Santa Olivia was released in 2009, and the sequel, Saints Astray in 2011.

These books provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: All over the place. Averted with Carmen though who, while in a difficult position, loves her children dearly.
  • Adults Are Useless: At least the townsfolk are, due to a complete lack of power when dealing with the military, although one could argue that this might be different if they hadn't had the virus to deal with at the same time.
  • The Atoner: Ron Johnson. Actually John Johnson. He really didn't intend for Tommy to die from their match, and springs Loup and helps both Loup and Pilar get past the border wall, knowing he will likely be captured. He's not, but in the sequel, he willingly testifies and goes to prison for helping her escape once Loup's case becomes central to freeing both the Outposts and GMOs.
  • Attempted Rape: Pilar’s uncle tries to pull this. He’s stopped. Katya isn’t so lucky.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: After recognizing the fix in Tommy's match and failing to save him, Loup goes to the coach and convinces him to train her as a boxer. She figures one GMO can beat another, if she trains hard enough, even though she's still outclassed in every other respect. She's right.
  • Big Eater: Loup. All that energy has to come from somewhere.
  • Bodyguard Babes: Loup and Pilar for large portions of Saints Astray. A foreign security firm wants Loup for obvious reasons, but Pilar turns out pretty good at it too.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Miguel Garza is a very talented boxer, with the potential to win the tickets out of Santa Olivia, but he’s never needed to push himself, and so he’s never quite racked up the skill to win a match.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: Loup follows in Tommy's footsteps and trains hard to take on the General's boxing match.
  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Carmen realizes she’s pregnant, while Martin is in denial because he was told as a child that he was completely sterile.
  • Buxom Is Better: Pilar is mentioned more than once as having a large bust, which gets her lots of attention and she generally enjoys flaunting it (though not always, as her pervy uncle was also attracted by this).
  • The Cartel: The military can't be bothered to actually manage the town, whose government was mostly wiped out anyway. The Garza family makes arrangements with them to take over as town enforcers - as long as order is kept, they are in charge. Hector Salamanca serves as a foil, owning most of the businesses/property, adapting them for the military (bars and brothels), and using military connections to get supplies.
  • The Casanova: Christophe, Loup's cousin (vaguely) and guide in Mexico during Saints Astray. He is a shameless flirt, and cheerfully admits to playing the field, even though the field is limited.
  • Caught in the Rain: Pilar and Loup are walking home from the gym together, arguing over their UST in the rain. Pilar, after some painful confession, finally just goes with it. They find a convenient abandoned office to resolve things in.
  • The Clan: Shown in Saints Astray, the original escaped GMOs settled in a beach/fishing town in Mexico, considered each other family, and some had children like Martin had Loup. Christophe uses the name The Kin for all GMOs, but as far as he's aware, their bunch are the only natural-born ones. Between numerous "cousins" exactly like she is (even if they're all boys) and plenty of "aunts" that don't flinch to touch her, it's the closest to normal Loup ever gets.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Loup is subjected to multiple deprivation techniques while the military holds her captive. At first, it's all to get the names of those who helped her play Santa Olivia. Later, during a break where they try to turn Loup with comfort instead, they admit Loup represents a great excuse to just keep torturing her endlessly to find out what would break a fearless GMO.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: All the orphan hallmarks are here - Loup never knows her father, Carmen dies when she is young, and Tommy is just old enough to live with the gym crowd, so Loup is separated. The church orphanage does become her second family, but her fellow orphans introduce the idea of being a hero.
  • Cool Old Guy: Floyd Roberts, the boxing coach. Father Ramon, while not actually all that old, is weary and philosophical enough to be one.
  • Cover-Blowing Superpower: Loup knows that as soon as she fights Ron in the ring, the entire town and the military will see she is a GMO, and also that she was behind the Santa Olivia appearances. Her boxing outfit takes colors from the Santa Olivia costume, so they can at least make it an awesome reveal.
  • Cute Bruiser: Pilar admits part of her attraction to Loup is the "cute and deadly thing".
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first couple of chapters follow Carmen. The story is quite definitely about Loup. The same goes for Tommy, after the focus goes to him.
  • Determinator: Loup. Tommy, too, trains like an unstoppable machine.
  • Didn't See That Coming: John Johnson, while helping Loup escape, admits he was aware Loup was out there, and guessed that she was behind the rematch, but didn't train harder for the match because he honestly didn't think she had a chance, GMO or not.
  • Disappeared Dad: Tommy's father was killed by one of the bombs supposedly set by El Segundo while he was a baby.
  • Drives Like Crazy: While the exact results aren't described, Loup's enhanced reflexes make her learning to drive a white-knuckled experience for her teacher.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Loup and Pilar manage to end up together and escape the Outpost. She also wins the boxing match.
  • False Flag Operation: Although El Segundo was certainly real at one point, all of the attacks along the wall, as well as the bombing of the village, are arranged as false flags to keep the civilians in line and justify the barrier zone. It is unclear how many soldiers are aware of this, but implied many have guessed.
  • Fearless Fool: Deconstructed. One of the things that’s different about Loup is that she’s completely unable to feel fear. Because of this, she has difficulty understanding which things might not be a good idea to do. She likens this to being a particular kind of stupid.
  • Fixing the Game: The General has no intention of letting any civilian win the boxing match. Most matches don't matter, but if a contender gets close, the general substitutes in a GMO that no normal human can beat. Tommy pays the price for being a great boxer with his life, although that was an accident.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: Practically the first introduction to the church Loup has is a fellow orphan gossiping on Father Ramon's sleeping arrangements and then explaining sex for a confused Loup. Tommy's reaction is especially priceless.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: The GMOs are people genetically enhanced with having animal DNA spliced into them, gaining superior strength and senses. Loup inherits them from Martin, her father.
  • Gold Digger: Pilar plans to marry into what little luxury she can find, and is open and frank about this with the other Santitos. Having few opportunities in Santa Olivia besides some bartending skill and her breast size, she considers it practical rather than greedy.
  • The Hero: Once the church gang knows what Loup can do, they convince Loup to take up this role. The church receives a lot of unanswered prayers, after all...
  • Hero on Hiatus: Loup and her gang stop the vigilante acts after the military threatens the church (not knowing who's behind it, but figuring the church does), and Father Ramon flatly states that all the Santitos will be expelled before he lets them shut down the church.
  • Heroic BSoD: Loup, when Tommy dies, goes into shock and refuses to speak or leave the gravesite. It takes Pilar to snap her out of it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Loup goes into her boxing match knowing the military will recognize and capture her whether she wins or not. She hopes the General can be convinced to uphold his promise of tickets out but for Miguel and Floyd, and either way she gets to face Tommy's killer and inspire the hopeless town. Only Ron's help in turn gets her out of it.
  • Hidden Depths: Pilar in Saints Astray. Although Pilar always had wits, she went through life in Santa Olivia relying on her looks and sex appeal to get by. Going through bodyguard training with Loup reveals she has a natural talent for firearms, and once given internet access she's a speed demon at research and organization, making her a killer assistant too. She still needs to go through a grueling physical training regimen, and pass a timed run and obstacle course to be accepted and use these talents, however. Wanting to be at Loup's side, sheer willpower gets her through it, although she admits later she'd prefer not to have to be that strong, and have an easier lifestyle.
  • Hollywood Law: Zigzagged. Loup needs to keep her existence secret because, it's explicitly stated, she's not technically a human being, and so doesn't have any rights under the constitution. This would be completely incorrectnote  in the modern-day States, but it's later revealed that an amendment was passed to specifically change that. Which is later challenged and overturned by Congress.
  • Hope Bringer: Loup does this two ways. First directly, playing the role of Santa Olivia to inspire the town. The bigger impact is a side effect of what she is - as people get to know her, they start seeing what they could be by facing their fears. Father Ramon calls her neither a leader nor a follower but a catalyst. Miguel gets hit with this harder than anyone, and in Saints Astray ends up lampshading the whole thing while mocking the idea that she's more violent than he (a normal person) is, as the military is trying to spin to keep her locked up.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Not Loup as you'd expect, but Miguel Garza of all people. After getting his ticket north, in Saints Astray he puts his life on the line to testify about the Outposts and the civilians still stuck in the barrier zone. Of course, he then gets stir-crazy in protective custody, slips his guards and goes to Vegas to live it up, and promptly gets collected by a shady casino looking for a ransom, forcing Loup and Pilar to get involved again.
  • Inconvenient Attraction: Pilar treats Loup as this - she has plans to marry into the Salamancas, and their instant instinctual chemistry frustrates her, even as she finds excuses to take it a little further. Up to Eleven once Tommy dies and Loup starts boxing training, as she really doesn't want to risk her heart on a martyr.
  • Inhumanable Alien Rights: GMOs are denied all rights by the ironically named Human Rights Amendment. However it is later challenged and repealed.
  • Insufferable Genius: Jane. Jaime is considered around as smart, but is a much nicer person.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Pilar shacks up with her Salamanca to push Loup away, after giving her plenty of time to choose between the boxing match and Pilar. Loup in turn doesn't fight it, knowing this was what Pilar wanted. They keep this up for months, but fall back together the very next time they see each other, right before the match.
  • Just Friends: Loup pairs up with Mack for a brief time, while Pilar is ignoring her. She even has sex for the first time with him. They can't overcome the Uncanny Valley however, and separate remaining friends.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: For their second act, the Santitos steal a cool grand from the Salamanca gang, and have Santa Olivia give it to a family that's letting their kids starve rather than accept help from the "sinners" church. This works because no one in their right mind would steal from the Salamancas.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Loup and the Santitos get good at delivering this - mugging Katya's rapist, dumping snakes on lying soldiers, and tossing a boulder at a patrol jeep that deliberately ran over someone's dog.
  • Lighter and Softer: The author has admitted the sequel Saints Astray was written with this in mind, giving Loup and Pilar plenty of bonding time together and resolving the more dire loose threads.
  • Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex: Mack and Loup don't work out in part because he finds having sex with her painful, complaining it's like his dick is in a vise. Pilar has no complaints though, so this presumably is fine without penetration.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Loup has a Latina mother and Black father (who was also a GMO). Her older half-brother had a White father.
  • The Mutiny: In Saints Astray, the military stalls the inquiry into the barrier zone by lying that there are no towns left and classifying everything. Pilar and Miguel take the stand to reveal the truth. With that opening, thousands of soldiers break ranks to submit that they served in an Outpost town, and that civilians remain in the military zone. They are led by every GMO soldier the army has, over a hundred. The momentum to free the Outposts turns directly into momentum to free Loup.
  • Mob War: One breaks out not long after Loup moves into the church. The Salamanca head finally dies, prompting Danny Garza to offer a takeover by marriage. Rosa Salamanca's counteroffer is to hire lots of Garza's own enforcers out from under him. Without guns, it takes a while for the casualties to mount high enough for the military to notice.
  • One True Love: Its mentioned that when GMOs do find mates, it's usually for life. Unfortunately for them, their strange intensity and physical feel keeps most away, and only a very rare few people have an opposite reaction.
  • Papa Wolf: Tommy is the big brother version of this to Loup. Had he not been in her life, she would probably have gotten caught and detained by the military as a very young child.
  • Parental Abandonment: Loup's father had to flee and hide out in Mexico prior to her birth, being a GMO, and died due to their shorter lifespan, thus she didn't meet him. Her mother Carmen dies later in her childhood.
  • The Plague: The basis for the setting. It's vaguely described as a very strong flu. Not 100% lethal or contagious, but enough people die that society starts to break down, especially in an out of the way town like Santa Olivia. It never reaches After the End levels though, and by the time the wider world is seen, it has largely recovered. It's damage is seen in more abandoned buildings, a few ghost towns, and some countries being extra careful about visitors.
  • Polyamory: Father Ramon, Sister Martha, and Anna are in a dedicated, stable, long-term relationship.
  • Practice Kiss: Plenty of these among the Santitos that are growing up with Loup, for a mix of practice, experimentation, and comparison. The more successful ones usually pair up.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Most of the soldiers aren't terribly bad people, just bored and willfully ignoring some of the more horrible things going on around them. Floyd even thinks the General is one, or is at least highly conflicted, but he may be biased.
  • Queer Romance: Loup's relationship with Pilar is a main theme of the series.
  • Rape as Drama: Katya's rape - and the military's lack of action about it - pushes the Santitos into action, starting Loup's Santa Olivia appearances so they can get justice on the rapist, and then later the soldiers who lied to cover for him.
  • Rape and Revenge: Loup avenges her friend Katya's rape (which the military does nothing to punish) through becoming Santa Olivia, punishing not only the rapist but also those who lied for him to cover it up.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Magnus Lindberg from Global Security in Saints Astray. He's not above leaning on Loup to get her to sign on, but otherwise sets up a deal that benefits everyone, and agrees to Pilar as well provided she can train up, which lets her find her Hidden Depths. He's shrewd, but open and fair. He even recognizes when the duo is getting involved in events back home again, and agrees to part amicably, although the rock band paying Loup's way probably helped that.
  • Red Baron: Mack is actually short for Mack the Knife, and isn’t his real name. He killed his father with a knife for abusing his mother.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Inez and many others are killed in the missile strike, to prove just how bad the Big Bad is.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Tommy is killed in a boxing match against Ron Johnson, another GMO like Loup.
  • Secret Identity: Loup leaves messages in the name of the town's patron saint, Santa Olivia, while trying out the hero business, and for one incident even had a costume. Father Ramon sees right through it, knowing what Loup can do, but lets it play out until the church is at risk.
  • Sidekick: All the church orphans, to Loup, during her stint as Santa Olivia. Pilar to Loup in the sequel.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Loup tells Mack she has no idea if she's attracted to boys or girls. She just knows it's different with Pilar.
  • Skunk Stripe: Pilar is mentioned to have a natural streak of blonde in her otherwise brunette hair.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Tom Almquist leaves Carmen with Tommy, and Martin leaves her with Loup, although he didn't die immediately.
  • Super Reflexes: Loup is capable of moving significantly faster than the average person, and is mentioned several times to be able to move fast enough that she can’t be seen.
  • Super Soldier: The point of the experiments that created GMOs like Martin and Ron Johnson. They were supposed to be sterile, but that wasn't perfect. They were also treated as property, so Loup (and some few like her) must hide what they are.
  • Super Strength: Loup is two or three times stronger than the average human.
  • Teach Me How To Fight: Loup to Floyd, the boxing coach, so she can face Tommy's killer in the ring.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Right after Martin leaves, Carmen vents on a gloating Danny Garza about how El Segundo may not be real. Now, the missile bombardment just a few days later might be coincidence, but when the only major structure to be demolished by it with major casualties was her cousin Inez' apartment building that they used to share, she decides to keep her mouth shut from then on. Most of the town catches on too, as the military tries to enforce a curfew, but so quickly after the missiles stop that there's no way they should have known the attack was over. The town hadn't even started digging bodies out yet.
  • Twin Switch: John Johnson the GMO soldier has a twin, and the twin Ron is in fact the first one seen fighting in the ring, allowing the General to swap Ron with John as needed.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Ron Johnson, a soldier and GMO who has some boxing training, but relies on pure strength to win. Loup doesn't have his massive build, but trains hard daily and absorbs every boxing technique Floyd can give her. It's enough. Loup calls him on this later, and he admits it was a mistake.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Inverted. GMOs have decades less to live than typical humans, a byproduct of their overclocked metabolism. Loup's father Martin dies in Mexico long before she reaches maturity. Martin was an original GMO however, and as the military expanded the program, they found biofeedback and meditation techniques to slow down the body and extend the shorter life. Loup picks up and starts using them in Saints Astray.
  • Weighted Gloves: Miguel discusses and invokes this intentionally during Loup's training, knowing that's the only way to train her to endure against someone superhuman.
  • With Friends Like These...: Loup brings Miguel Garza in on her secret so he can be her sparring partner. Miguel was rivals with Tommy, but mourned his death enough to offer her his help. Miguel is in it for a promised ticket out, constantly calls her a freak, and in Loup's own words, she mainly counts on him to hit her as hard as he can. Despite all this, it is clear Miguel has a heart, and a soft spot for Loup besides.


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