Just three months have passed between the events of Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship (2017), which is just about enough time for Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang), San Francisco’s beloved superheroine, to go out of her mind with boredom. She’s not quite at climbing-the-walls or intentionally-setting-fires levels of stir crazy, but she seems pretty close. (Daily multi-hour breakfasts leading to afternoons filled with absolutely nothing would do that to anyone.) Demon activity has been nonexistent since the big battle at the end of Heroine Complex, which is great for the people of San Francisco, but bad for superheroes.
So when Evie Tanaka, Aveda’s former assistant, lifelong best friend, and current demon-fighting partner gets engaged and asks Aveda to be her maid of honor, it seems like a great opportunity. Planning every last detail of the bridal shower, picking the right dress, and what flowers will be at Evie’s engagement party ought to be tasks that are no match for the indomitable will of Aveda Jupiter. But weird things keep happening: puppy demons are showing up, causing trouble, and disappearing without a trace; brides-to-be are pitching superhuman fits beyond even the grossly outsized limits of reality TV; and worst of all, Aveda’s perfect plans for Evie’s perfect wedding keep backfiring … mainly because of Aveda, herself.
The HEROINE COMPLEX trilogy is, nominally, about people with superpowers trying to make their world a better place. But more than that, it’s about two women wringing out the kinks and toxicity from their decades-long friendship. In Heroine Complex, Evie took center stage as an insecure young woman who is gradually shoring up self-confidence and learning to be a powerful, supportive heroine in her own right. In Heroine Worship, Kuhn turns the spotlight on Aveda, whose outer shell of steely imperiousness is only a thin veneer over a lifetime of frustration: with herself for not meeting her parents’ strict expectations of what a good Chinese daughter should be, with her parents for not accepting who she is, with herself for not suppressing enough of the Annie Chang in her personality (and with her unrequited love interest for bringing out too much of Annie Chang), and with other people for treating her friends badly. Aveda’s life goal is to prove that everything she does is the best, and her single-minded pursuit of Evie’s best and most wonderful wedding ever doesn’t leave much room for what Evie thinks the best and most wonderful wedding ever might be.
What I like most of all about Heroine Worship is the honest way Kuhn writes her female characters; they frequently find themselves in sexy situations with other consenting adults, which is fun, but they also have honest and difficult conversations that underscore the sometimes painful transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s easy to see why Aveda would throw herself so whole-heartedly into making sure she puts together a spectacular wedding for Evie, her absolute best friend — and it’s easy to see why Evie would shy away from asserting herself and try to focus on being grateful for Aveda’s help during a stressful life events — and the inevitable snowballing of circumstances from misunderstood to bad to apocalyptic was entertaining only because I wasn’t right in the thick of things, chewing on antelope skewers or fussing over possibly-possessed custom bridal lingerie.
So much of Heroine Worship’s strength lies in the interactions between Aveda and Evie, or Aveda and her definitely-not-boyfriend Scott, or Aveda and secondary characters like Lucy or Shruti (and the dastardly half-demon princess Maisy), that the ultimate resolution felt a little thin, though it provided a good platform for Kuhn to talk about the ugly reality of urban gentrification. Looking back, what I remember most clearly are the stellar interpersonal relationships and the pitch-perfect commentary on race and personal identity, which form the solid core of these books.
There’s a lot to recommend about both Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship, and the right readers will devour them like a wedding-cake tasting platter. I’m eagerly anticipating the final (as-yet-untitled) volume of the HEROINE COMPLEX trilogy, currently scheduled for release in 2018. I have no idea what lies in store for Evie and Aveda, but I’m sure it’ll be amazing.