"the flange of a Ouija board"? The planchette, not the flange!
"experimenting on the populous" Populace, not populous!
Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.
This is the sequel to Going Through the Change by Samantha Bryant, which I reviewed very favorably back in August of 2015.. I have to say up front that I was much less pleased with this one for a variety of reasons which I shall discuss shortly. The story is that of some mature women who undergo changes which equip them with superpowers when all they expected was menopause or a quiet retirement. I enjoyed reading a story about more mature women for once. Such stories are rare, and well-told and engaging ones rarer still. In the first book, Patricia O'Neill grows scales on her skin. Jessica Roark discovers that she can fly - or at least float. Helen Braeburn learns that she can create fire - and survive it - and she becomes the villain of the piece. Linda Alvarez changes, rather abruptly, into a man with very unusual strength.
This novel picks up not long after the first one finishes, with the girls moving on with their lives as best they can now their secret is out. Sort of. The story begins with Linda Alvarez, now officially renamed Leonel - although why that name rather than say, 'Lyndon', is not explained. Neither is it explained why she adopts a man's name given that her thought processes are very much a woman's at this point, since she's literally a woman occupying a male body. She apparently never heard of a boy named Sue! 'Lyndon' is a boy's name with a similar sound, although it doesn't mean the same as 'Linda' does (Spanish for beautiful).
Most names which mean 'beautiful' are female names, so Linda would need to be named something like Hermoso or Bonito, neither of which have quite the same feel. How about Bo, short for Beauregard? It's just a suggestion. Fortunately, Leonel still has the love of her husband who is conveniently bisexual (at least she hopes she still has his love), and meanwhile she's training to be an agent with the government, along with Jessica, and trying to track down the villain of the previous volume.
This volume introduces a new villain, but for me, the problems with the tale too many to really enjoy it. This volume did not have the original and inventive feel of the first; there was very little action in it; it was overly long for the story it told, and it consequently moved very slowly. On top of that, we learned nothing about how or why the women changed the way they did, so there was no more depth added there. Worse, the ending was very dissatisfying, with the villain escaping, so now it's become like an annoying episodic TV series with a seasonal arc. In short, the novel embodied what I like least about series and why I do not favor them, except for a very few rare and treasured instances.
Some parts were very entertaining. I particularly liked Jessica in this one whereas I think I preferred Linda in the first. Jessica was bouncy and energetic and I enjoyed her scenes, but these were the only ones I really enjoyed. The problem as that Jessica never got to show her stuff. She was always on a leash and neither did Linda nor Patricia get let-off the leash for that matter. It was like they were being held back, and this is fine in order to build expectations in the beginning of the story, but at some point you have to let your super heroes loose, and when they're held back for the entire story, all you do is engender disappointment and irritation. At least that's how it is with me.
Overall, the pace in this volume was lethargic, and the contrast between this volume and the last, and between Jessica's scenes here and the chapters featuring other characters was very noticeable. Talking of bouncing, there was a lot of bouncing around between characters too. I felt a bit like a pinball! While the novel is commendably not told in first person, for which I thank the author, the short chapters got me invested in one character's story only to find I was quickly ripped away from that into another character's world, where I would start to get settled only to be ripped away again. It made for a choppy and unpleasant read for me.
There was a lot of telling here rather than showing as well, and some of the characters I couldn't get invested in because reading about them felt more like this was a daytime TV show than ever it was a super-hero story. I'm very much in favor of writers who offer a different take on a given genre, in this case super powers and the people imbued with them. This is why I liked the first book in this series so much, but I don't like soap operas, and this had that feel to it, and it cropped up far too often for my taste.
The story was also rather deceitful in some regards, because all these internal monologues gave the superficial appearance of delving into a character's feelings and relationships, yet in the final analysis, we never really got to see those relationships in action. Linda, for example, was fretting about her husband, who had been the dominant stereotypical male (which makes me wonder what Linda saw in him in the first place).
In this story, we learn that he's not dealing with this role-reversal, as Linda takes up a career and he feels like he's being nudged into a back seat. The problem is that all we ever get is Linda's take on it. We never get her husband's views except through Linda's mind. It's like men have no role to play in this story unless they're a problem, or a character who seems to be there solely as a love or flirtation interest. Frankly, it felt genderist to me.
The ending was the biggest disappointment because the whole story had these two women, Jessica and Leonel, training like they were building towards some big showdown with evil, yet in the end, the story fizzled and the villain escaped not though any great villainous power or devious plan, but through sheer incompetence on the part of the very operatives who had been training supposedly so diligently and capably!
Leonel was sidelined completely at the end, and Jessica and Patricia were effectively hobbled, so there really was no showdown and no real super hero moment, let alone a real team effort. I was truly disappointed having gone through a very long build-up for an ending that was significantly less than thrilling. I wish the author all the best with this series but it's not one I want to continue following, and I can't in good faith recommend this as a worthy read. I think I would have enjoyed it more had the first story been complete in itself, and this second novel been set in a new location with a totally different group of characters who underwent, perhaps, something similar to the first set. Instead we have a second volume that felt less than the sum of the first.