As promised, Santa Olivia

First off, don’t read the back cover, and if you do, don’t believe it. You’ll come away with the impression that it’s about a werewolf vigilante, which — haha, no. None of the above. Thank you for playing.

It’s set in a small town called Santa Olivia near the Mexico border, and the story kicks off with the American military rolling in and declaring that, as part of the ongoing war with Mexico, that whole strip of territory is being declared a buffer zone, no longer part of the United States, and that anyone who chooses to remain in the town rather than evacuating is forfeiting their American citizenship. Well, being as that’s home, inevitably some people choose to stay, and this is about them and their descendants.

In its atmosphere, it reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale and Arslan. Although it’s certainly a different type of dystopia, one of benign neglect rather than active oppression, you get the same sense of powerlessness, of being trapped, of being kept in a prisoner’s ignorance and isolation. The world beyond the walls may be going about its business as usual, but to the residents of Santa Olivia it might as well have ceased to exist. (And to the younger residents of the town, it never did exist.)

It’s one thing to write a dystopia where the abuse is overt and its effects obvious. It’s something else entirely (and something far more interesting) to write a place where the oppression is more subtle, and it takes a long time before you realize how deep the ramifications run.

So that takes care of setting — characters?

I LOVED EVERYBODY.

There are no one-dimensional bad guys here. Even the characters who are antagonistic are rarely doing so out of malice, you can see their motivations.

The locals have a complicated relationship with the soldiers occupying their town, but the soldiers are shown as individuals too — some are nice and some are assholes — not just a faceless mass of military.

All of the “good” guys also have their full complement of flaws and idiosyncracies. They can be prickly, or possessive, or dishonest, or codependent, or have very mercenary ideas about sex, or just be an asshole most of the time. (Oh, Miguel, you’re my favorite.) Nobody is perfect, but everyone elicits your sympathy.

Plot?

Kept me going from beginning to end, so. Halfway through it becomes about not-what-you-thought-it-was-about. If I told you, it would sound improbable, but it works. Has its “WHOA SHIT!” moments, and going in the endgame, I really had no idea what to expect.

Romance?

Lovely. Also, lesbian. Also, hot. Carey writes romance beautifully, exactly the way I like to read it. The emotional arc is fully developed and we get to watch it unfold the whole way, none of this “happening offstage” bullshit that gay romances so often get saddled with in deference to heterosexual sensibilities. It gets the emotional build-up it deserves, and it gets the emotional payoff too — it gets the Big Scene where the characters go out on a limb, wear their hearts on their sleeve, all that grand passion.

That gets taken for granted in straight romances — that the author is going to go there, going to show that, going to respect the relationship and give it all the emotional impact they can pour into it — but it’s seen a hell of a lot less often in gay romances. My hat goes off to you, Jacqueline Carey.

**

Okay, that was a more reasoned review than I thought I’d be able to do.

I’ve realized I’m not so good at writing about the books that I truly adore, because when I get into a book that intensely, it disables the analytical portion of my brain. I walk away with an overwhelming sense of “It was awesome in every way~~!” and I’m pretty much incapable of seeing the book’s weaknesses. If someone points them out to me later I’m likely to either disagree about it being a flaw, or disregard the flaw as unimportant, because obviously the book worked so well overall that it doesn’t matter.

(Which is why Sarah Monette’s Melusine-&-sequels break my brain, because they are SO GOOD, and I get into them SO HARD, but even I have to acknowledge the weaknesses. It makes for cognitive dissonance like whoa.)

In any case, that’s the highest praise I can bestow on a book — that it hijacked my ability to analyze it.

5 thoughts on “As promised, Santa Olivia

  1. Okay, this sounded really interesting from the beginning (I love writers that actually create people even for the small appearances of characters; you know, the ones that give you the impression of having a life away from the main storyline), and then, omg. a well written lesbian romance and I’m gonna have to buy this thing NOW. Like, RIGHT THIS SECOND. IT MUST BE MINE. Every single well-written lesbian storyline I’ve ever seen has ended unhappily, and I get so amazingly tired of it.

  2. Gay fiction has a history of ending in tragedy. My theory is that emotional gut-punches are easier to pull off with tragedy than with happily-ever-afters, and gay writers want straight readers and critics to take their work seriously, to be moved by it despite their usual disinterest/hostility toward homosexuality. Not to mention that, historically, there has been a lot of tragedy for gays — social disapproval that hurts both individuals and couples; outright violence, whether it’s a public execution or a gay bashing; the AIDS epidemic — so it’s no surprise that those themes occur at a higher-than-average frequency.

    That said, I too am goddamned tired of gay fiction that ends in tragedy. I think we’re ready to be past that.

  3. I honestly think that a lot of the time, the tragic endings for gay couples bother me because they’re so unnecessary. I don’t mind them as much when they’re used to emphasize how difficult the lives of homosexuals can be, but when it’s just tragic for the sake of being tragic… No thank you. Case and point, Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald-Mage series. She gives us, not one, but TWO utterly pointless tragic consequences over the course of three books. Those consequences have nothing to do with being gay, unless the point is that, if you’re gay, YOU WILL BE MISERABLE AND THEN YOU WILL DIE.

    *gnashes teeth* GAY PEOPLE CAN BE HAPPY TOO. REALLY. I HAVE SEEN IT. There does not have to be random deaths, misery, or the inevitable break-up at the end because your gay partner leaves you.

    I actually get almost as frustrated with the inevitable break-ups as with anything else, because, dammit, I just went through this whole god damn book rooting for this couple and getting behind them, and then you decide that if they live HAPPILY EVER AFTER, well, that’s just not interesting, and I’m left thinking “Gee, that was a waste of a read.” If you’ve ever read A Strong and Sudden Thaw by R.W. Day, which, btw, was excellent, and then continued on the sequel, you’ll see what I mean. A bunch of shit happens to the main couple in the first book, and some of it is pretty wtf, but in the end, yay! They’ve overcome the adversity and can now be a proud couple! And then you move onto the sequel and the main character randomly decides he’s in love with someone else, and now I can’t even read the first book anymore because the second book just ruined it for me.

    Jim Grimsley is one of the very few authors that can write tragic gay fiction and still be awesome, because at least HIS tragedies make sense.

  4. Ohhhh, Mercedes Lackey. Gay fiction for the yaoi crowd. <3

    Full disclosure: I read The Last Herald-Mage series when I was a freshman in college, which put me about 6 years above the target age range. I remember reading it and: A) Rolling my eyes at how ~put upon~ and ~oppressed~ the main character was in the beginning, B) Being annoyed at her fade-to-black for the emotional parts, C) being FUCKING PISSED OFF about the ending of the third book, because I saw no reason why Vanyel had to die. Except for the fact that he’d ~Seen~ a vision of it before, so of course it had to happen.

    (Incidentally, in my own fantasy they have a phrase for that concept, eleletisa, which means “seeing makes it so,” referring to something that you would never, ever have done, except that you’d seen a vision of it, and that was what put the idea in your head to start with. Whether or not it was actually inevitable is up for grabs.)

    I’ll have to check out A Strong and Sudden Thaw — the title is ringing all kinds of bells, so I know it must have turned up on my list before. Although at your recommendation, I’ll probably avoid the sequel. ;)

    Jim Grimsley is one of my faaaavorites. Have you read Kirith Kirin?

  5. (Watch me ignore everything except the important part!)

    OMG YES I HAVE READ KIRITH KIRIN IT IS LIKE THE BEST BOOK EVEEEEEEEEEEEER!

    *coughs* I could probably make a mile-long list of all the ways that book was genius and still manage to forget things.

    I loved that magic system. It was really well created, described, and it was such an integral part of the world building that it was almost like looking at a tapestry, of all the ways everything ties together.

    I loved Jessex. I loved his dog. I loved his uncle. Kirith Kirin is the best immortal king ever (amazing how falling in love with a youngster can make an immortal act like a horny teenager *amused*). I even loved that the Big Bad of the book, although evil, was… a person. His motivations were interesting, and one of the best parts is when Jim Grimsley shows that the Blue Queen and her magician still have enough good in them that they just CAN’T kill Jessex. I love that you get through the majority of the book hating the queen and then when you finally meet her, you just feel pity and the beginnings of affection.

    I loved that forest. I loved every single one of their campsites.

    I loved EVERY SINGLE interaction with Kirith Kirin and Jessex to the point where I was drooling over even the slightest mention of one.

    I even love that my city library actually has it for me to read. I mean, Wichita, KS, dude. That was amazingly freaking unexpected. I just wish they had The Ordinary so I could read it too, but for some reason, they only have the first and third books, why why whyyyyyyyy. I can’t read The Last Green Tree until I can, damn it! ;__________;

    Okay, back to the unimportant things. XD

    Yeah, if you read A Strong and Sudden Thaw (and you really should, because that book was amazing. You just gobble it up in one sitting), DO NOT read that sequel. Honestly, it didn’t even make sense. Surely if you fall in love with someone else and you’re still in a relationship, you at least feel guilty, right? RIGHT?! Unless you’re a sociopath?! Dude, even Toreth in the Administration series (which I have the biggest freaking addiction too; WHEN WILL MANNA FRANCIS PUBLISH THE NEXT BOOK?!) only has his one relationship, and when he deviates, it’s casual sex. And he IS a sociopath.

    Please excuse the rambling. I’m tired and I always go crazy for books, especially good ones or, heaven forbid, books that are absolutely flawless except for glaring errors that just ruin it for me.

    Kirith Kirin rocks.

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