Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Karma (Karma #1) by Donna Augustine

Camilla was a lawyer before she died.

Now, after signing a piece of paper without properly reading it (yes, she knows – but in her defence she was highly traumatised), she is Karma. A personification of the Universe’s sense of justice and comeuppance. And she’s not happy about it, she didn’t want this and she’s hoping that maybe she’ll be able to duck out of it once her trial period is up

In the meantime, she’d like to find her killer – and bring all kinds of Karmic punishment down on him.

Camilla is now Karma, her job is to make sure people get what’s coming to them (which always seems to be bad – at least in the few occasions we saw her do her job before she got sidetracked). She works for an agency full of beings that handle these nitty gritty supernatural forces – including the biggies like fate and luck but even more mundane and slightly weird and esoteric elements. Like one of her colleagues sends out black cat omens, we have 3 kids running around ready to jinx people if they don’t knock on wood. Luck is teamed with Murphy who imposes his infamous law.

Camilla is a reluctant Karma but does draw out several interesting conflicts from it – she has, after all, just died and the grief she shows for her loved ones she has left behind really shows. I really like how well written her clinging to her old life is, her affections, the evolution of her grief and how that relates to the true nature of her relationship as the revelations grow.

Camilla also has some good conflict as Karma – there’s the obvious one, of course, in bringing about wrongdoer’s comeuppance she realises she has to hurt people – even kill them. She is, in effect, the Universe’s assassin. But there’s even the nature of avenging wrongs when perhaps they should be stopping them

While the world is interesting and the concept pretty unique, I do feel the world building is still very unfinished. We have a lot of talk about “the universe” but no real definition of what that is – but I can live with an unknowable force guiding the actions even if those actions make no sense whatsoever. What does bother me more is not really understanding the core of the plot. There’s these shadowy people guided by something else entirely who are doing nefarious things against the firm – and I don’t even have a shred of explanation as to their actual motivations or even what they are or how they can exist. And then there’s another group of secretive supernatural beings who may have been ex-employee’s of the universe’s group and they’re opposing shadowy group 1 – and I don’t know their motivations, how they exist, what they can do… The problem is most of the plot, especially towards the end of the book, relates to how Camilla interacts with these two groups.

I also think, as the first book in a series, it rather missed the opportunity to build on the context and establish both the agency and the characters inside it – we needed to see more of Camilla being Karma, more of Luck and Murphy and the rest doing their thing.

I also have a minor quibble on tone – and it is minor. I can’t decide if this book wants to be fun and a little whacky (and some of Camilla’s fellow co-workers certainly point towards the whacky) or whether it wasn’t to be serious and introspective (because the whackiness doesn’t really last and we spend a lot of time on Camilla’s reasonable grief, loss and her life). Still, the humour is pretty hilarious and it’d be a huge loss if this wasn’t in the book

There are some problematic issues that I can’t swallow as well – firstly Camilla and Fate seem to be running towards a romance and it’s skeevy in the extreme. There’s lots of him being a complete and utter arsehole, bullying her, intimidating her, trying to scary her, even making her colleagues ostracise her at work and generally filling out every abusive checklist – but then we get minute moments of softness or other acts that mean he’s not being cast as a villain – but a rather classic “he’s an arsehole with a heart of gold” melting.

Sexy times happens – which brings me to Cupid. He appears very very very briefly and apparently has an office prank of using his powers to make colleagues have sex with each other – and yes, Camilla falls prey to this. To exacerbate this magical rape, Camilla and Fate both seem to view it as an irritating office prank in terms of severity – like he’s repeatedly hiding their favourite mugs or switching the coffee machine to decaf. Cupid himself may be the only LGBT inclusion – he’s not listed as gay or bi, but he gropes Fate during his little rape prank – needless to say, this is appalling representation. I cannot think of any POC characters and while she has female co-workers they’re very minor points in Camilla’s life

Camilla herself is an interesting character. She’s not only capable, but she is fiercely aware of the fact. She was a lawyer, she was a damn good lawyer – she knows she was a damn good lawyer and it gave her a hefty set of skills that, again, she is confident in. She is good at what she does and manages not to have false modesty while not being arrogant either. The only shakiness is I don’t think that skill necessarily was displayed all that well, even if we were told about it.

Camilla is a great character though, she has vast potential and hits just the right tone even if she is so extremely out of her depth. She has lines she doesn’t want to cross, she has strengths and weaknesses and she is a very human character. She is trying to do what she thinks she must do, she is not willing to jump into a new, unwelcome role without any reluctance, she isn’t a servant but nor is she a completely incoherent rebel. I like her. She’s a great fit for this world and the story that is developing

This whole book struck me overwhelmingly with potential. The concept, the shadowy forces that have been hinted at, the conflicts that are brewing, the confusion, the mystery and the characters all pull me in demanding to know more. I’m intrigued. I’m interested. I’m invested. This book makes me eager for book 2 while, at the same time, wishing there was just a bit more of book 1.