fantasy book review Jacqueline Carey Santa Olivia, Saints AstraySaints Astray by Jacqueline Carey

I find myself wanting to give Saints Astray (2011) two different ratings: one for how happy I am for its heroines, Loup Garron and Pilar Ecchevarria, and the other for how well Saints Astray works as a novel. I love the characters and am glad their lives have become easier since the events of Santa Olivia, but the result is a book that does not have enough tension or conflict.

Loup and Pilar have escaped Outpost and travel to Mexico, where they enjoy a brief idyll in the company of Loup’s relatives on her late father’s side, many of them genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like Loup. Then they take jobs with an elite bodyguard service and travel the world in the company of a string of wealthy clients: a fashion designer, a Mafia bride, a businessman, a rock band. Later they return to the States to rescue a friend, and become involved in a political battle for the rights of GMOs. All the while, they are adorably in love.

The problem is that there’s not much grit or real adversity. Even when situations do look dire, they tend to be resolved much more smoothly and easily than expected. The bodyguarding adventures are fun, but they feel episodic rather than connected to the main plot arc — and we’re seldom really worried about our heroines. The novel becomes more moving when the girls return to the US, where Loup is considered “stolen military property” rather than a human being. That too, however, is a less insurmountable problem than it might appear. Favorite characters can start to feel like old friends, so it feels somehow wrong to wish more trouble on Loup and Pilar, but Saints Astray simply doesn’t continue the level of tension established in Santa Olivia.

The best stuff here is character-related. Loup is noble and fierce, but I want to give a special shout-out to Pilar. Jacqueline Carey is great at subverting expected character types. We’ve seen it in the KUSHIEL’S LEGACY and NAAMAH novels with characters like Barquiel L’Envers and Balthasar Shahrizai, who turn out to be nobler than you might guess from their snarky disposition and decadence, respectively. Pilar is a busty, flirty girl who likes pretty clothes and has a sexual history, and in a hundred other books she’d be the mean girl or the comic relief. Instead she’s Loup’s girlfriend and co-heroine, and much braver than she thinks she is. The two girls face the same situations, but unlike Loup, Pilar can feel fear and doesn’t have superpowers. My two favorite passages in Saints Astray both center on Pilar: first, when she struggles in bodyguard boot camp and discovers new strengths within herself; and second, when she takes a courageous stand during the latter events of the book.

Saints Astray is fun but lacks the darkness that made Santa Olivia compelling. With less tension and danger built into the story, the triumphs don’t resonate as strongly this time around. Yet the leads are still lovable and there’s something to be said for savoring their new, less desperate lives.

Published in 2011. Post-apocalyptic scifi meets urban fantasy in Jacqueline Carey’s sequel to Santa Olivia as two girls fight to stay together and change the world. After their escape from military custody, Loup Garron and her girlfriend Pilar have a chance to reinvent their lives thousands of miles away from the forgotten and disenfranchised Texas border town and military zone of Santa Olivia. Thanks to Loup’s genetically engineered gifts of strength, speed, and an innate fearlessness, as well as Pilar’s unexpected skill with a pistol, they find new careers as high-priced bodyguards for a world famous British rock band. Back in the States, an investigation into the existence of Santa Olivia, also known as Outpost 12, begins in Washington, D.C. When the key witness with evidence to expose the military cover-up, their old comrade Miguel, vanishes, the case seems lost. The abandoned citizens of Santa Olivia need a champion, a voice raised on their behalf, which pushes Loup and Pilar into a hard choice. If Loup returns to U.S. soil, she’ll be an outlaw. If she’s caught, she’ll be taken into custody again; and this time, there may be no escape. But if she and Pilar don’t fight for the freedom of those they left behind, no one will.

Jacqueline Carey Santa Olivia Jacqueline Carey Santa Olivia


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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