“We all know that villains cheat and steal and lie, but the heroes do it too. They lie to their friends and families. They make excuses and let down those closest to them time after time. That’s bad karma. One day, all that lying is bound to catch up with them. I just make sure it happens sooner rather than later. What goes around comes around. It’s karma.” [loc. 270]
Carmen Cole discovers her fiance Matt and her best friend Karen in bed together -- on what was supposed to be her wedding day. Furious and hurt, she discovers and unmasks their secret identities. Matt (unsuspected by Carmen) is the Machinator, a local superhero: Karen is Crusher, the corresponding supervillain. Carmen is determined to unmask every 'super' out there: 'No woman would come home to find her boyfriend slipping into a neon pink codpiece. No man would be puzzled over why his wife had a strange collection of whips and an odd affinity for black leather' [loc. 196]. She turns out to be very good at this, and ends up working at The Expose, a major newspaper in a thinly-disguised New York.
Then Carmen finds herself caught up in a power play between the Fearless Five (heroes) and the Terrible Triad (villains). Can she discover the identities of the villains in time to save herself? More to the point, will she ever unravel the secrets of Striker, the masked superhero with whom she's having a steamy affair?
Carmen is something of a Mary Sue: she's even red-haired, and she single-handedly saves the day. She also fails to notice that all the superheroes and supervillains (not to mention Carmen herself) share one very obvious characteristic. This does, oddly, add to the reader's enjoyment: we can see the plot unfolding well before its protagonists do.
Karma Girl is more of a romance than a superhero novel, though it does make some astute observations about the genre and its tropes. There's a moment, too, where Carmen -- who's already been captured by, and escaped from, a group of supervillains -- is attacked and sexually assaulted by common-or-garden lowlifes. She's rescued by Striker, but the experience shocks her. It's too real, too personal, too basal. ' Malefica and Frost’s tubs of radioactive goo had frightened me. Now, their threats seemed petty, almost cartoonish, in comparison to the attack tonight.' [loc. 1654] I appreciated the juxtaposition of comic-book violence and the real threats faced by women every day.
Less ironic, and less humorous, than some of the other superhero novels I've read lately: but a quick, light, entertaining read.