Jacqueline Carey, author of Santa Olivia, told Tor.com that the book takes place in a dystopian near-future in which the world has been ravaged by a pandemic and a DMZ zone has been established between Mexico and the U.S.
“Residents of the town of Santa Olivia are caught in limbo, stripped of U.S citizenship, unable to leave,” Carey said in an interview. “A genetically engineered soldier deserting from the Army has an affair with a local woman, lingering long enough to beget a daughter before he’s forced to flee. Ultimately, his daughter Loup and a group of intrepid orphans scheme to bring to life the folkloric legend of Santa Olivia, the town’s patron saint, bringing hope to a place that hope had abandoned. I call it a post-punk desert bordertown fable, with boxing and cute girls in love.”
The protagonist of the novel, Loup, is the child of a genetically-engineered “Wolf-Man.” “[She] is stronger and faster than normal humans, but most significantly, she’s incapable of feeling fear,” Carey said. “Lacking the instinct for self-preservation, she has to learn to think, to be careful, to conceal her abilities. She struggles to understand emotions she doesn’t understand, like insecurity and embarrassment, and to reconcile her differentness with her ordinary human desires, like her crush on fellow orphan Pilar. At the same time, her fearlessness serves as an inspiration for those around her, making her a catalyst for change.”
Boxing plays a major role in the story, so Carey read a number of books on boxing techniques and history, and watched a lot of classic matches online. “During the period of time when I was deciding how best to execute my climactic ending, I interviewed a number of ex-military friends, and ran a lot of searches on topics like escapes from military prisons, interrogation techniques, and drug-smugglers’ tunnels that could very well place me on a governmental watch-list!” Carey said. “Looking at my search history, I’d certainly wonder what I was up to.”
One of the biggest challenges for Carey was writing in a more spare, streamlined manner than her usual baroque style. “Another,” she said, “was trying to explore the notion of fearlessness in new and unexpected ways, and always posing myself the question: What would it really be like?”
The original spark of Santa Olivia was a book Carey began writing more than fifteen years ago, while spending the summer on the island of Crete, which featured a heroine who returned to an isolated bordertown after a time away. “I abandoned the project after realizing that the real story I wanted to tell lay in the backstory, but the setting and characters stayed with me,” she said. “Fast forward fifteen years, and current events like the debate over immigration, governmental propaganda, and use of military force inspired me to return to the general concept, now given more depth and made relevant.”
Carey has another novel that’s just out, Naamah’s Kiss, the first volume in a new trilogy. “[It’s] set in the milieu of Kushiel’s Legacy, only a few generations later, with a new cast of characters,” Carey said. “More intrigue, adventure, romance and sex!”