Penny, Claire and Ray are back from their supervillained shenanigans over the holidays and they are now back at school.
And they are bored. So very bored.
So when a supervillain offers them the chance to explore space and visit the moons of Jupiter, of course they jump at the chance!
Robots, alien goo, warring factions, oppressive automatons, and so much more – Penny and her friends are deeply involved in all of it.
Penny and her minions in the Infernal Machine are back – and I have been looking forward to this one.
This book takes the story to a completely different world – literally. The supervillains go into space using Penny’s magnificent inventions to explore new world and discover a really wide cast of characters and factions around Jupiter’s Moons
The world here is really impressive in its complexities. We have so many different factions with a range of different plots and motivations and agendas which don’t always work together. Each society/faction is very different and there’s a lot of storyline elements from each one – as well as characters who either cross the line between the different factions or draw upon lines from different faction – and even have motivations simply above and beyond their factions. I like that in particular because it’s always tempting just to make characters little avatars of the factions they represent.
Absolutely nothing about this is simple. Even the hallucinating space goat. No, really.
There’s also some really interesting interaction between Penny and another super-powered being she finds there, Remmy. I like how Penny has been established as powerful and special – but she still has peers and equals. I like the complexity of their relationship with reasonable misunderstandings, competition, friendship, jealousy and just a lot of very real emotion as well as some very pointed lessons about underestimating people and assuming their own super capabilities
If I have a complaint it’s because this book is TOO complex. Too many factions, too many people, too many separate agendas – and all of it completely introduced at once while the gang try to learn it all and wallow in the middle of it while pushing a storyline. And I wasn’t even sure what the storyline was. What were the Infernal Machine doing? What was their actual agenda there? I honestly didn’t know and I did feel kind of lost and confused more than once as I tried to remember who all these people where and, ultimately, why the Infernal Machine should care. In some ways they felt like a clumsy insert causing a lot of problems as they plunged into a situation they knew little about
And increasingly I think that’s the point – though that may be inferring more complexity than intended. Penny and her friends jump into a situation they barely understand, absolutely determined to HELP and make things better for the locals. And they certainly do improve some things with Penny’s super powers. But at the same time they cause a lot of unintended problems and even come close to outright disaster simply because they have absolutely no idea of what they are working with. In a way it’s an excellent depiction of how power + good intentions + ignorance can lead to utter disaster.
I am a little disappointed with this book, but I’m fighting it. Part of the problem is that the first book was so utterly awesome that it set the bar extremely high. That book was so much immense fun, such an immensely joyous read that it was tough act to follow and this book suffered following in its shadow
I didn’t like the whacky space adventures as much as the original super hero story that could have been developed further instead. I didn’t like that we had to absorb a whole lot of completely separate (and likely irrelevant for future books) world building in the second book. I didn’t like that Penny’s awesome power was somewhat derailed by some of them. I didn’t like that her best friends/minions/cohorts Claire and Ray were so much less of a factor – both certainly had their moments but their presence felt muted. I missed the awesome world setting.
Especially since in the beginning, with the security guards merrily quitting the minute they see super vllains on the doorstep and other excellent super power shenanigans was just so much fun.
And all of this, every last drop, is entirely down to personal taste. Because what we got was still very fun, incredibly original and brought out a lot of excellent character growth and interaction with Penny. I loved that Remmy and Penny’s interactions empowered both of them, I loved that these two girls were so awesome even along side Remmy’s super powered older brothers. I loved that their story had so many twists and went places I never expected (and I even liked how it ended). My disappointment comes down to WANTING the first book rather than not wanting this one – which isn’t an especially defensible reason for being disappointed.
Sadly, this book is not good with representation. We have a whole lot of people, a huge cast, and few minorities. There are a few POC at school with Penny in the very beginning of the book There is a brief attempt to address the lack of POC with all of these humans in space coming from a relatively small gene pool (and, therefore, all look very similar) but it feels like a pretty weak reason to make the cast so completely white. There’s also a really dubious attempt to rewrite Aztec history and the conquistadors by throwing in superheroes and supervillains which was thankfully brief because it was pretty appalling. There were no LGBT people. Gah why can’t awesome books also be inclusive?
The depiction of women – with Claire, Remmy and Penny – are just awesome and even when they are competing against each other or at odds it is still handled with respect with a lot of decent motivation and sense behind their decisions. They were all such excellent, very real characters. And the whole idea of a super power based on Kludging as a form of Mad Scientist is kind of awesome.
I loved this book – it was fun and excellent and definitely worth reading. I really can’t stress this enough – it was fun and it was wonderful. But the first book was just so much MORE wonderful…
Of course that means book 3 is definitely something I’m really interested in.