Friday, January 01, 2010
"Karma Girl," by Jennifer Estep
Alternate Title: Southern Exposer
The Chick: Carmen Cole. After she caught her superhero fiance in bed with her ubervillain best friend, she dedicated her career to exposing the true identities of all caped crusaders - until one of them commits suicide after being unmasked.
The Rub: Just when she wants to give up her exposes, Carmen is kidnapped by a trio of ubervillains who want her to unmask the Fearless Five, a powerful superhero team. Unfortunately, to save her hide, she just might have to ask for help from the super-teammates of the guy who offed himself thanks to her. Awkward.
Dream Casting: Sarah Michelle Gellar.
The Dude: Sam Sloane, a.k.a. "Striker." When the reporter infamous for dragging super-powered people out of the closet starts tailing him, he knows he's in for trouble, even when she claims she's doing it to find out the true identity of his worst enemy.
The Rub: He totally wants to go undercover with this intrepid reporter - but she made his best friend jump off a building! Kind of a turnoff.
Dream Casting: James Marsden.
SuperFiance and Captain Slut: Oops, did we ruin your wedding?
Carmen: You ruined a whole lot more than that. *snaps picture*
Front Page: EXTRA EXTRA! HEROINE GETS TRAGIC BACKSTORY!
Carmen: I won't stop until all super-powered people are exposed for who they really are!
Random Hero Dude: *dies*
Front Page: THIS JUST IN - HEROINE IS A HEARTLESS BITCH!
Carmen: Oh crap. I'll never unmask another hero again!
Terrible Triad of Villains: Yes you will - or we'll dump you in radioactive waste!
Carmen: Save me Fearless Five!
Striker: You're pretty.
Carmen: I drove your friend to suicide.
Striker and Carmen: *sexxor*
Terrible Triad: Nyaahaha! *kidnap Striker*
Carmen: *saves Striker*
Striker: Great! Let's get married!
Carmen: No, let's wallow in guilt and self-loathing for a few more pages.
Carmen: Okay I'm done!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Heroine with a Sad Romantic Past
1 Hero Who Likes Leather
1 Flaming Bitch
Several Pairs of Designer Footwear
2 Guilt Trips
1 Full-Body Leather Suit With Pockets For Condoms
The Word: In a clumsily-structured introduction, our heroine Carmen Cole discovers her fiance is a superhero and her best friend is an ubervillain - at the same time she discovers they've been sleeping together, 30 minutes before her wedding ceremony. Ouch. Betrayed three ways from Sunday, she gets her revenge by taking pictures of the two and splashing their true identities all over the front page of her newspaper.
To her, however, it's not enough - every one who puts on a mask, for good or evil, is lying or betraying someone in some way, so she sets out to expose every super-powered being she can. She does a pretty good job of it, too, until she unmasks Tornado, a member of the super-team the Fearless Five, and he commits suicide shortly thereafter. Shunned by the general public, demoted to working the Society beat at her newspaper, and sick with shame, Carmen swears she'll never rip off another mask.
Too bad she doesn't get a choice. Walking home from work one day, she's kidnapped by the the Terrible Triad, a trio of ubervillains headed by the nasty bad-girl Malefica. They want her to uncover the identity of the leader of the Fearless Five, a dashing fellow named Striker who wears black leather and wields katanas. If Carmen doesn't figure out who he is in a month's time, they'll dump her in radioactive goo. Carmen refuses to be responsible for another superhero's death, but the only solution she can come up with is to discover Striker's identity and use that, in turn, to discover Malefica's (because arch-enemies are always linked in some way, she reasons).
Striker, as well as the rest of the Fearless Five (now the Fearless Four, I suppose), have no intention of giving away their identities, but they can't just sit back and let a (somewhat) innocent reporter get murdered either, so Striker offers her protection. Carmen is immediately attracted to Striker but knows there are too many obstacles - he's a mega-popular superbeing and possibly a billionaire, while she's an impoverished social pariah, and let's not forget the fact that she drove his best friend to swan dive off a skyscraper.
I'll start with the good: Estep's world-building is fun and kooky while still consistent, and parodies comic book stories with canny precision. This, Judi Fennell, is how to establish a comedic setting. I loved the alliterative names of every hero/villain (Fiona Fine, Sam Sloane, Matt Marion, etc.), I loved how even ubervillains had fans, websites, promotional materials, and charities. The goofy names of companies and buildings, the over-the-top costumes, the references to the typical superheroine body type (tiny waist, huge boobs), the zaniness tempered by overall good plotting and structure. All good stuff.
As well, the obstacles between the hero and heroine are heartfelt and real, an island of normality in all the neon spandex: the heroine who spent years ruining superheroes' lives must now depend on one, and her proximity to the Fearless Five helps her understand all the things about superheroes she used to hate (namely, the secrecy).
However, there is also the bad, which unfortunately takes up the greater chunk of my opinions regarding this book. Opinion-wise, I'm just going to put it out there: I hated that this book was told in first-person, entirely from Carmen's point of view. I seriously believe it hampered my personal enjoyment of the novel as a romance. I have no beefs against first person narration in general (one of my favourite fantasy trilogies of all time, The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, is told entirely in first person) but I have deep issues with first-person narration told from a single character in a romance.
Romance, from what I've come to expect, revolves around two protagonists - the hero and the heroine. In nearly every romance I've read, the reader gets a peek into both the hero's and the heroine's thoughts, with front-row seats to how they both evolve and develop toward their HEA. Karma Girl, however, is all about Carmen - we don't get any scenes told from Striker's point of view. At all. I felt a deep and gaping void in the narrative development of the romance because we only see the relationship's growth from one side. There were several scenes (like when Carmen and Striker make love for the first time) where I frankly did not understand Striker's actions, and some insight into his motivations would have been welcome - without it, Striker never comes off as a romantic protagonist. Instead, he's merely a love interest.
As well, I found Carmen, as a character, to be disappointingly shallow, which is another negative to a novel that's told entirely from her corner. She's very black-and-white, acting in extremes, with little subtlety or nuance in between. This is especially apparent in the introduction, where she goes from Completely Self-Righteous to Completely Guilt-Ridden and Self-Loathing within the span of a few pages. She also jumps to an out-of-the-blue conclusion near the end of the novel that makes no sense and only serves to drag the story out another twenty needless pages. The biggest complaint I had with this novel, however, was the writing. Jennifer Estep's writing style is simplistic, juvenile, and repetitive - often repeating familiar phrases and words, using bizarre and ill-fitting similes and metaphors, or resorting to cliches. Carmen's "inner voice chatters" at her more than half a dozen times over the course of the novel, and Striker always makes her feel "feverish". They're not awful words or phrases, but when repeated ad nauseum they start sticking out and interfering with the reading experience.
To put it bluntly, I like what Jennifer Estep has to say, but I hate how she says it. While she has an interesting story to tell and cheeky *nudge nudge, wink wink* worldbuilding, the lack of a hero's POV, a poorly-developed heroine, and lacklustre technique render this story less than super.