Heroine Complex: A fun beginning to an exciting new series

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn science fiction book reviewsHeroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn’s debut novel, is fun. I had a big smile on my face while reading most of it, and when I wasn’t smiling, I was gasping in shock at Big Reveals, blushing furiously during the sexy bits, or shaking the book and yelling, “Evie, don’t be stupid!” (In my defense, she was being willfully stupid.) Sure, Heroine Complex is ostensibly about a pair of Asian-American women, one of whom is a superhero and the other is her personal assistant, but it’s also about the power of female friendship, as well as personal identity and exigence in the face of social pressure. Also, it’s about cupcake demons and the earth-shaking power of a high-stakes karaoke battle.

Eight years ago, an inter-dimensional portal opened up in San Francisco, spewing nasty demons and bestowing low-grade superpowers throughout a small portion of the citizenry. Some powers are useful, like telekinesis or creating glamours, and some are, well, less so; Magnificent Mercedes has a kind of real-time traffic cam in her head, and there are plenty of other people with even more mundane gifts. Evie Tanaka is the long-suffering personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, grade-A prima donna and self-designated protector of their fair city. Aveda wears tight jumpsuits, spends hours every day training her body for grueling fights, and throws epic tantrums when she sees nasty comments on her social media pages. Evie’s job is to keep Aveda’s ego under control, livestream demon battles, and clean demon blood off Aveda’s leather boots. When Aveda is badly injured and Evie must pose as her boss, what should be a one-night gig turns into a complicated commitment as Evie’s own powers are exposed and she learns more information about the demon portals. Can she maintain the illusion that Aveda Jupiter is her normal imperious self? Will she be able to force her teenaged sister, Bea, to go to school? Is there any hope for her to live a normal life?

Heroine Worship (Heroine Complex) Paperback – July 4, 2017 by Sarah Kuhn  (Author) Book 2 of 2 in the Heroine Complex Series

Sequel!

Evie’s voice is funny, world-weary, intelligent, and instantly engaging. She’s spent nearly a decade carefully establishing an inflexible routine to escape a secret tragic history — wearing the same clothes every day, eating the same food for every meal, allowing herself to experience a limited range of emotions, permitting absolutely no surprises — and as it falls to pieces, her panic and immaturity are palpable. Evie’s spent so much time micro-managing everyone else’s lives that she has no idea how to do anything else, which would be a great impetus for the story on its own, but Kuhn raises Heroine Complex’s stakes by putting the fate of the city in the balance. Arguing with your teenage sister or oldest friend is one thing; jump-kicking a demon-possessed statue and facing down a catty fashion blogger is quite another. Kuhn also includes some excellent commentary on white hipster appropriation of Asian culture, particularly food and kung-fu cinema, and the frustration that the same kids who made fun of Evie for eating spam musubi became adults who think they know more about hole-in-the-wall dumpling shops than she could. Despite the supernatural trappings, Evie reads like a fully real person, and Kuhn writes her flailing attempts to establish a new identity with compassion and humor.

Aveda Jupiter wouldn’t be much of a superheroine without a support crew; fellow residents of the restored Victorian she calls home include Lucy Valdez, her bodyguard and personal trainer, and Nate Jones, demonology expert and mad scientist. San Francisco has also expanded its police department to include a Demon Unit to help clean up after battles, headed by the taciturn and immaculately dressed Rose Rorick. As the novel progresses, Bea and an old friend of Evie and Aveda’s, Scott, are likewise drawn into Aveda HQ’s daily operations. The characters all feel distinct and are given plenty of quirks that are sure to become useful in further installments. For now, the focus is on Evie, particularly her relationship with Aveda, and their shifting dynamics from childhood friends to boss-and-assistant to something which has the potential to be quite fulfilling for each of them.

Kuhn does a great job of establishing the parameters of the world she’s building, keeping this novel concentrated on San Francisco while occasionally acknowledging the wider world beyond. She brings the city and its people to life on the page and makes any oddity seem totally plausible, balancing complex emotional depth with sheer fun and silliness. She’s taken the best of what makes superhero comics appealing and added her own spin to it, and as wonderful as Heroine Complex is, I can’t wait to see what she’ll come up with next.

Published July 5, 2016. Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder. Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants. Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea. But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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2 comments

  1. As was reading this, every other sentence I would stumble across something that made me want to read it more! Thanks, Jana, for introducing me!

    • You’re very welcome! I needed a fun book to read, and this hit all the right buttons. If you get a chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it, too!

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