Saints Astray by Jacqueline Carey is the sequel to Santa Olivia. The genre Santa Olivia falls under is hard to describe – it’s been referred to as both urban fantasy and science fiction. While I thought of it as urban fantasy when I first read it (not having read much of the genre at the time and having seen it labeled that), I’d consider it science fiction now since it does deal with genetic engineering and is a bit post-apocalyptic/dystopian.
Warning: Since this is a direct sequel to Santa Olivia, there will be spoilers for the end of that book. If you’re curious about the books but haven’t read the first one yet, here’s my review of Santa Olivia.
After escaping Santa Olivia, Loup is offered a job working for Global Security, who thinks having the world’s only genetically modified bodyguard would be a great asset to its clients. Loup isn’t sure she wants to take the job and definitely won’t take it without Pilar by her side. Pilar is worried she won’t be able to pass bodyguard training, but she will try if that’s what Loup wants to do. After spending some time with Loup’s cousins in Mexico, Loup decides to pursue the bodyguard job for two reasons – she’s afraid her cousins may be in danger with her there and she’s tired of doing nothing. She thinks perhaps she can find a way to draw attention to the people left behind in Santa Olivia and help them in some way.
Once Loup gains some fame as a bodyguard for a famous rock band, she has a chance to help an old friend and possibly the rest of the inhabitants of Santa Olivia. Unfortunately, it will mean placing herself in great danger, but Loup wouldn’t consider doing anything else if she may be able to make a difference.
The previous book, Santa Olivia, introduced us to a whole new world with Outpost 12, which was occupied by the military and isolated from the rest of the world after a disease killed many of its inhabitants. The only way for a person to leave was to defeat the general’s boxing champion, which was done by Loup, a fearless girl with inhuman strength descended from a genetically engineered soldier. It was also part coming of age story as Loup grew up, and it was also about giving hope to the residents of Santa Olivia when they felt like they were abandoned by God. While it was a fun, fast-paced read, Santa Olivia still had some depth because of the world and themes like being an outcast and faith.
Saints Astray is a different book from Santa Olivia in a lot of ways. While it is similar in that it’s not a dense book and is a quick read with lots of dialogue, it’s also more of a straight-forward adventure story. Loup and Pilar have left Santa Olivia, thanks to Loup’s win, and they train to be bodyguards, actually become bodyguards, and travel the world (which, outside of Santa Olivia, really doesn’t seem all that different from our own). They have lots of fun in this book, although they do often remember and worry about those left behind in Santa Olivia. Since there is so much time spent on their adventures, it seems as though it may not come around to resolving what happens to Santa Olivia for a while, but it does come back to dealing with those left behind by the end. Saints Astray actually reminded me a bit of Carey’s recent Naamah trilogy even though it has a very different writing style and setting. Like the Naamah books, there’s a lot of world travel by main characters who want to do good and inspire others. It has the same sort of light and hope, even though the Naamah books are darker overall.
While I had a lot of fun reading Saints Astray, it is my least favorite of Jacqueline Carey’s books I’ve read. It’s an enjoyable book, but it doesn’t have the same sort of depth her other books have – and a big reason I love her books so much is that depth. Saints Astray is largely just an entertaining story with some action, adventure, and lots of focus on Loup and Pilar’s relationship. It’s a book that was fun to read but wouldn’t have stuck with me after reading it at all except for one thing: the character Loup. I loved seeing how her fearlessness made her different from other people. Pilar is constantly plagued by insecurity, but Loup doesn’t have that problem because she’s not afraid of what other people think. It allows her to be herself and to be more carefree. Fearlessness doesn’t mean emotionless or seeming inhuman, either – she can love and she can be sad for her friends. Loup also has a strong sense of justice and when that’s combined with fearlessness, it means she will do anything she can to help others regardless of the cost. Her strength of character spreads to and inspires those around her, and it’s very uplifting to read about what a difference this one young woman makes. Simply put, I loved Loup and she herself is what really made this book for me.
The beginning of Saints Astray was rather slow since not much happened after Loup and Pilar were rescued. They discussed the possibility of becoming bodyguards, then they just spent some time hanging out with Loup’s cousins. While it was nice to see Loup and Pilar having some fun for a change, it also started to get a bit dull to read about them shopping, playing on the beach, and discovering the wonders of the world outside of Outpost 12. Once they decided to become bodyguards and started their training, I found it picked up a lot and from that point on it was very readable with hardly a dull moment. There was an excessive amount of time dedicated to Loup and Pilar discussing how sexy the other was, but it usually moved on to other things before it completely lost me (although it did always come back to this again later since there was a lot of focus on young love and their relationship).
Saints Astray is more of a feel-good, fun-loving story than Santa Olivia even though it’s not without some tension toward the end. For a while it seems like it will just be an entertaining adventure with Loup and Pilar acting as bodyguards and enjoying seeing the world, and it largely is just a fun story with a fairly forgettable plot. However, the way Loup’s character is written makes it a more memorable novel – she has a fierce, driven loyalty and love for justice that makes her shine and inspires others. Also, by the end, it does become tied more closely to Santa Olivia since it comes back around to wrap up the loose ends involving the fate of the occupants of Santa Olivia, making it a satisfying conclusion to this storyline.
My Rating: 7/10
Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.