Sunday, February 16, 2014

But Where Are the Werewolves? I Was Promised Werewolves!

Santa Olivia
by Jacqueline Carey
Published by Grand Central Publishing
2 Out of 5 Stars

The town of Santa Olivia lies between the U.S. and Mexican border, but becomes a sort of present day leper colony when it is walled off from the rest of the world. Apparently the epicenter of a particularly nasty flu virus, the U. S. military builds a base there so the soldiers can keep the townspeople in line. And, as governments are wont to do, it decides, "Hey, while we have this super-secret base cut off from the rest of the world, how's about we take the opportunity for a little genetic experimentation? Maybe splice some animal DNA into human DNA and create a super soldier? Anyone have any wolf DNA lying about?" Which is all fine and dandy until your super soldier escapes, impregnates a local waitress, and hightails it for Mexico after the townspeople turn against him. And so Loup Garron is born, a child with super-strength and an inability to feel fear. 

Following Loup throughout her childhood and teenage years, we witness as she deals with the deaths of loved ones, bands together with others in her orphanage to create miracles and punishments in the name of the town's patron saint, grapples with her identity and her sexuality, and enters into a military sanctioned boxing match as a means of avenging her brother's death. To have focused on any one of these stories might have made for a more cohesive (if not more satisfying) narrative, but, as it is, the plot structure seems clunky and jumps from one idea to the next. It doesn't help that, through it all, Loup doesn't seem to feel much of anything or develop a personality beyond "gee, I feel different from everyone else." The climax of the book leads to the aforementioned boxing match, which lacks any real sense of tension or drama.

I've seen summaries of Santa Olivia that claim it gives a new and intriguing slant to both the werewolf mythos and to the superhero concept. Except for it doesn't. Because, really, it's not about werewolves or about superheroes. The whole wolf DNA angle is basically irrelevant; the only wolfy characteristics exhibited by Loup are her super-strength and stamina, a keen sense of hearing, an increased appetite, and some poorly executed idea about her "mating for life." Any animal could have been selected for the same traits--there's no real reason as to why it had to be a wolf. In terms of her superhero abilities, see the list provided above. Not exactly thrilling stuff. She's no Wolverine (although one of the orphans compares her to him). Here she is, blessed with the strength of the big bad wolf, so what's she going to do? She's going to box her heart out, baby! This failed to blow my house down. 

There were some intriguing ideas here whose executions fell flat, but I did appreciate the inclusion of a strong lesbian character. However, even that feels a little disingenuous in that it seems to exist only as a means of reinforcing the idea that Loup never fits in, in case it's not really coming across that she's different. During her sexual experimentation with boys, the boys always reject her, saying that she just "feels different" when they kiss her or that sex with her is like putting a "penis in a vise." It's almost as if seeking out another female is her only option, although it's later connected to the whole tendency to have only one mate idea. I would have preferred it if her attraction to women had been separated from this strange connection to her lupine heritage.

Overall, I feel this is the type of book that was born out of a tongue-in-cheek conceit: "Hey, what if I named the main character Loup Garron? Get it? Like loup garou? As in werewolf? Why aren't you 'howling' with laughter?" 

Also, I'm pissed about that cover. Because that cover has nothing to do with the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment