Given that this is about a lesbian Latina boxer who is genetically unable to feel fear, I have no idea why it took me so long to get to it. It is not only exactly up my alley, but is very well-written, gripping, moving, sometimes funny, sometimes sexy, and probably of wide appeal even to people who don’t find that premise instantly charming.

In the not-quite-post-apocalyptic near future, the town of Santa Olivia has been cordoned off as part of a gigantic effort to seal the border between the US and Mexico. The inhabitants of the town, mostly poor and Latino/a, are stuck there, subject to the American military base on site but with no recourse from the government of either country. However, it’s not an orderly dystopia, but a poor and somewhat lawless town where people live their lives and have relationships and sports and happy times, even though conditions are hard and unjust.

Speaking of sports. The American military commander loves boxing. Once a year, a match is held between an Olympic-level boxer he brings in, and whatever man from Santa Olivia wants to face him. If the latter can win, he gets a ticket out of town. Needless to say, this creates a thriving boxing subculture, jumping at the prize that’s perpetually just out of reach.

But all this is prologue. The story concerns a young woman from Santa Olivia who falls in love with a fugitive from Haiti… a man who was experimented on and genetically engineered. Urban legend calls those men werewolves, but they can’t shapeshift. However, they’re stronger, faster, and unable to feel fear. He’s on the run and soon leaves… but not before fathering a little girl, whom he playfully names Loup.

The bulk of the story is about Loup growing up, mostly in an orphanage. Being unable to fear gives her an odd emotional tenor, not quite autism spectrum but similar. She seems strange to other people, and in her circumstances, being unable to fear means that she needs to hide herself lest she attract unwanted attention. But while she puts off some people, she intrigues others, and soon she’s at the heart of a little band of orphanage kids.

Loup may not feel fear, but she knows injustice when she sees it, and there’s a lot around. There’s also a local legend of a child saint, Santa Olivia, depicted as a little girl in a blue dress. Loup and her friends take on the role of Santa Olivia, stealth dispenser of justice. (In one hilarious scene, she creates a rain of live snakes.) And then there’s that boxing match…

I loved this book. The town and its people feel incredibly real, making unpredictable choices in the way that actual human beings do. The power dynamics, both social and individual, were also strikingly realistic. The relationships were wonderful, from Loup’s childhood buddies to her first romance to (my favorite) her relationship with an arrogant asshole male boxer who goes from being an enemy to a sparring partner to an unexpected friend.

This is written in a completely different style and tone from Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart books, so if you didn’t like those, you may well like Santa Olivia. If you did like those, you may also like Santa Olivia. There’s a sequel, but the story feels complete within the book.

Santa Olivia
luzula: a Luzula pilosa, or hairy wood-rush (Default)

From: [personal profile] luzula

I really enjoyed this book, too! It was just so very readable and easy to care about.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

I hadn't realized you hadn't read this! I was totally thinking it was something up your alley the entire time I was reading it: boxing! Genetically modified soldiers! Scrappy orphans!

Alas, the sequel is not very good... It might get better after the first few chapters, but it was so different from the first book that I just gave up. I really want Yuletide fic for this.
loligo: Scully with blue glasses (Default)

From: [personal profile] loligo

Wow, this sounds fascinating!
skygiants: Na Yeo Kyeung from Capital Scandal punching Sun Woo Wan in the FACE (kdrama punch)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

This is a book I have been meaning to get around to forever; I also have no idea why I have not yet read it.
st_aurafina: Rainbow DNA (Default)

From: [personal profile] st_aurafina

I loved this book so much! And I loved Kushiel, too, in different ways.

The sequel is lots of fun too, but a total change of tone from the first one. Still fantastic though.

From: [identity profile]

I also took a while to get to this book, because the premise did not seem for me, but I liked it anyway.

I much prefer the second book, though, which has a completely different tone, but I know I'm pretty much alone in that.

From: [identity profile]

Well, I guess most people expected it to go bigger and darker. Instead, we get Loup and Pilar's happy ending. A whole book of it. Adventures, fun times, Pilar being super enthusiastic about their new life. They also do some things to help their childhood town, but it's a small part of the book. (It's like a giant fanfic of happiness. <3 Except it's canon.)

I also like that about the Elemental Logic series by Laurie J Marks, how you've got the war in the first book and the rebuilding in the second book. It's a nice break from the expected bigger-and-darker structure.
melebeth: (Default)

From: [personal profile] melebeth

Oh, that is good to know. I loved Santa Olivia and then picked up book two when it came out but haven't gotten around to reading it. (I also LOVED the Laurie Marks books and am so sad that book 4 still hasn't been published.)

From: [identity profile]

It's basically a bodyguard AU- they go and train to be superpowered bodyguards to the rich and famous, then get hooked up with a boy band (think Fall Out Boy) and tour Europe, using their new celebrity status to raise awareness of what's going on back home. Don't expect anything too deep, but it's a ton of fun if you like that sort of thing.

From: [identity profile]

I guess it takes everybody a while to get to it and then we are all sorry for it!

I absolutely loved it but was but off reading book 2 for the reasons you mention. Now I'm a little more inspired, though.

Btw, Rachel, I don't think Loup is a lesbian. I actually kinda liked that for her the main classification she belongs to is 'not human' or well, 'mutant', even though she's clearly very aware of the different expectations for girls and boys and how her being female means her strength is even freakier.

From: [identity profile]

PS. I lost your email where you told me the title of your bear book - can you re-send or post it here if it's not a secret?

From: [identity profile]

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I thought it was a terrific book.

From: [identity profile]

i loved this book! once i got to it, anyway; for some reason i've decided it's some kind of noir urban fantasy thing, and it turned me away. then i got over myself and into the book, and it was so lovely: crisp, clear, bright, emotionally engaging. and the second book is kind of... ridiculous, but like, how often do you get to read a lighthearded lebsian roadtrip with bodyguarding shenanigans and spreading-justice-via-music-band subplot? not often :D

From: [identity profile]

I liked this one a lot! Though I never did get around to reading the next book.

From: [identity profile]

I think someone else I know wrote a review of this--I want to give it a try at some point.

From: [identity profile]

sounds like an interesting story.

just something to wrap oneself up with on a cold, long winters night.

From: [identity profile]

Thank you very much for the recommendation!

I read the book yesterday and it made a sick day better.

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