Review: The Bigtime Series by Jennifer Estep

The Bigtime Series (Bigtime, #1-4)The Bigtime Series by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads always asks me, “What did you think?”

This series of four books-plus-extras is best enjoyed with a minimum of thought. I think of them as mental cotton candy. I love Jennifer Estep’s Spider Assasin series, so when I saw this omnibus edition on a freebie sale from Kindle, I grabbed it up and gobbled right through all the stories in order. They melted right into my brain with barely any effort at all.

When I was done, I had an odd taste in my mouth, plus I felt a little sticky and bloated. Cotton candy.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed these tales of super-heroines and their crime-fighting romance misadventures.  I liked these with a good, solid three-star like. (That’s what I give my own books, for the sake of comparison.) They’re fun, and light and fluffy and oh-so-sweet. I don’t finish books I don’t enjoy. I have no problem putting down a story after 10, 100 or even 1000 pages. (Looking at you, Mssrs Sanderson and Martin. I’ll revisit your worlds when the end of your series are in sight and not a moment sooner. But I digress. Again.)

My only warning is this: just as a steady diet of cotton candy will rot your teeth and encourage diabetes, a steady diet of books like these would rot your brain and have serious intellectual repercussions. There’s not enough substance to sustain thought. They’re fine for a quick treat, but don’t expect the ideas to stay with you much longer than it takes to lick your fingers clean.

The premise, that superpowers are real, that masked superheroes are an accepted part of society, is explored only in the most superficial ways. I don’t know that I would’ve enjoyed it half as much if I wasn’t already familiar with the tropes, types and themes of a four-color world. Since I do have a solid grounding in that genre, I appreciated the attention to detail and had a ball spotting all the references. Nearly all the characters had Golden Age alliterative names. Lulu Lo. Bella Belluci, Carmen Cole. The protagonist in Karma Girl comes from a small town called Beginnings, but she moves to the city when her career takes off. The city’s name? BigTime, of course.

The protagonists are well-written — no cookie-cutter characters from Jennifer Estep, no sirree — but they have all the depth of sheets of paper. This works, given that the world itself is so thinly sketched, but it makes their conflicts as predictable as the plot of a network sitcom. There’s no space wasted on development. Everyone falls neatly into their niche: shy nerd, plucky reporter, suave socialite, temperamental artist. Every detail has a purpose. Every action will have significance later in the plot.

Plot? Similar for all the stories. They’re romances in the most traditional sense, despite the atypical setting. Girl with quirks and a problem meets Boy with secrets. (Secret identities are a running theme,. All the inhabitants of this world have huge blind spots until the plot device starts working.) Girl and Boy dance through a courtship involving a contrived meetings, shocking revelations, and comedic moments. (And steamy sex! These are R-for-romance rated.) Major dilemma surfaces. Girl and boy must make Big Choices. Love conquers all. With capes.

In summary: fun, frivolous romance fluff, written tightly and traditionally, with an entertaining setting and clever use of classic comic book plot elements.

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