Heroine Worship: Bridezilla: San Francisco S.O.S.

Heroine Worship by Sarah KuhnHeroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn fantasy book reviewsHeroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn

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.

Published July 4, 2017. Once upon a time, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) was demon-infested San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine, a beacon of hope and strength and really awesome outfits. But all that changed the day she agreed to share the spotlight with her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka—who’s now a badass, fire-wielding superheroine in her own right.  They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but more and more, Aveda finds herself shoved into the sidekick role. Where, it must be said, she is not at all comfortable. It doesn’t help that Aveda’s finally being forced to deal with fallout from her diva behavior—and the fact that she’s been a less than stellar friend to Evie. Or that Scott Cameron—the man Aveda’s loved for nearly a decade—is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder after what seemed to be some promising steps toward friendship. Or that the city has been demon-free for three months in the wake of Evie and Aveda’s apocalypse-preventing battle against the evil forces of the Otherworld, leaving Aveda without the one thing she craves most in life: a mission. All of this is causing Aveda’s burning sense of heroic purpose—the thing that’s guided her all these years—to falter. In short, Aveda Jupiter is having an identity crisis. When Evie gets engaged and drafts Aveda as her maid-of-honor, Aveda finally sees a chance to reclaim her sense of self and sets out on a single-minded mission to make sure Evie has the most epic wedding ever. But when a mysterious, unseen supernatural evil rises up and starts attacking brides-to-be, Aveda must summon both her superheroine and best friend mojo to take down the enemy and make sure Evie’s wedding goes off without a hitch—or see both her city and her most important friendship destroyed forever.

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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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