Back in grade school, when most of my friends were reading Archie comic books, I was enthralled with superheros. Archie and Veronica were boring; I liked The Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men (I was a devout Marvel fangirl) and even now, I still can geek out over a good superhero story with the best of them. So when I saw Jennifer Estep’s Karma Girl, set in an alternate universe where superheroes and ubervillains routinely tear up the buildings in Bigtown, I knew I had to read it. On her wedding day, Carmen Cole found her fiancé Matt having sex with Karen her best friend and maid of honor, while they are both wearing spandex. Not that they are into any kind of kinky fetish. No, Matt is really the superhero Machinator, and Karen is Crusher, the ubervillain who is Machinator’s sworn enemy. Along with a broken heart, Carmen (a journalist) gets the story of her career and embarks on a personal crusade – to unmask superheroes and ubervillains wherever they are. Carmen’s stories land her a job with The Exposé, a tabloid in Bigtown, New York, a city crawling with superheroes and ubervillains. She sets out to discover the secret identities of Bigtown’s biggest superheroes, the Fearless Five – which she does. Well, at least one of them. When wealthy businessman Travis Teague’s secret identity as Tornado shows up in Carmen’s exclusive story, he commits suicide and Carmen is persona non grata.
At least Carmen still has her job with the paper, even though she’s been demoted to covering trivial society events. Carmen runs into Malefica, the head of Bigtown’s evilest group of ubervillans, the Terrible Triad. Malefica wants Carmen to unmask the rest of the Fearless Five. She’s particularly interested in their leader, Striker, and if Carmen can’t accomplish this, Malefica is going to turn her over to the tender mercies of her partners Frost and Scorpion who are experts in torture and pain.
Carmen sets to work, but the identities of the remaining Fearless Five remain elusive. Then she actually meets Striker in the flesh and spandex, and despite her distaste for superheroes, she actually likes him. As the book goes on Carmen and Striker become closer, then they become lovers and when she discovers his secret identity along with the rest of the Fearless Five, she can’t go along with Malefica’s plan at all.
Karma Girl is a breezy mixture of chick lit, romance and fantasy, and I ate it up with a spoon. The superheroes and ubervillains of Bigtown possess superpowers that are awesome – like Fiera’s ability to throw fireballs – or icky – like Halitosis Hal and his powerful breath. My own favorite is Granny Cane, a senior citizen superhero and the scourge of muggers. Bigtown has a dedicated cable channel, SNN (Superhero News Network), and a large part of the budget goes to rebuilding the infrastructure, damaged in the many heroes/villains brawls. The superheroes all have websites, fan clubs, groupies etc. It’s a very well delineated world.
Carmen is a delightful character. She loves her work but isn’t a slave to it. She is smart and basically very kind – she suffers a lot of guilt for her story about Tornado. The story is told in first person and we get to know her very well. I liked her, and she’s exactly the kind of person I would like to meet in real life.
I can’t say too much about Striker and the rest of the Fearless Five without giving away too much, but they are a great team. The sequel to this book, Hot Mama is told by another member of the team, Fiera, and it’s just as much fun as this one.
I thoroughly enjoyed Karma Girl. It was fast and fun, and Carmen was such a great character. I tend not to like most heroines of chick lit since they are too brittle and superficial for me, but Carmen had some depth to her. She wasn’t just a silly twit fixated on shoes and sex. I think you’ll like this book even if you aren’t a superhero fan, and if you are, you are guaranteed to like it.