Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite authors. Her Kushiel's Legacy and Naamah trilogies, set (originally) in a reimagined medieval France, are the type of historical fantasies I’m trying to write. I was fascinated by The Sundering series, which was essentially Lord of the Rings told from Sauron’s point of view. And I read Santa Olivia, Carey’s tale of a genetically modified girl trying to escape her disenfranchised border town, in a single sitting.
If all of the above weren’t true, however, I probably wouldn’t have finished Saints Astray, the sequel to Santa Olivia.
Loup, the genetically modified girl, is still a fun character. She looks normal, but her father, along with more than a hundred other men, was engineered by Chinese scientists who crossed his genes with something predatory—probably a wolf. From him, Loup inherited several unnatural traits, including superhuman speed and an inability to feel fear. And because her brother died in the ring, she became obsessed with boxing.
The general setting also remains intriguing. It’s present-day Earth following a mini-apocalypse—a worldwide pandemic that thinned the global population and scarred the survivors’ psyche. The United States became especially paranoid; Santa Olivia, the border town Loup finally escapes at the end of the first book, exists in a secret, militarized buffer zone between Texas and Mexico.
Saints Astray doesn’t explore this history much, though, aside from the occasional stray detail. (For example, Japanese customs workers still wear breathing masks as they screen travelers’ blood.) And for most of the book, there’s minimal tension, aside from the (tiring) insecurity of Loup’s lover Pilar; by becoming professional bodyguards, the pair basically just embarks on an international road trip. None of their assignments are particularly exciting, and their dialogue is more immature than it needs to be to emphasize the girls’ youth.
The last third of the story picks up a bit when Loup gets around to doing something about the friends she left behind in Santa Olivia. But this isn’t enough to save the novel from being a disappointment. Maybe Carey knew as much when she gave the book its title; Saints Astray is a rare miss from a usually great author.