Title: Heroine Complex
Author: Sarah Kuhn
Genre: Fantasy, Superheroes
Publication Date: July 5 2016
Paperback: 368 Pages
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 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.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a trilogy
How did we get this book: ARCs from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): eARC
Hello and welcome to this episode of “OMFG, I love this book so much, let me tell you why”.
It’s been a while since I have been this charmed, this engaged and enjoyed myself so much when reading a book. And the best thing I can tell you about it is that it is so much fun. Between the optimism of its storylines and the earnestness of its characters, the spot-on cultural eye and the geeky feel, this book is one cool glory.1 I mean, the story basically opens with evil cupcakes and ends with a group hug.
Heroine Complex is the first in a series starring Asian American superheroines and it follows main character Evie Tanaka. As a personal assistant to the diva superhero Aveda Jupiter, Evie has to put up with a lot of bossy behaviour, whilst keeping Aveda in the spotlight and herself hiding in shadows. Evie doesn’t allow herself to feel very much – not frustration with Aveda (her own superhero power, she says, it’s to know exactly how to deal with Aveda), not anything remotely sexual or romantic toward anyone (definitely not toward Nate, the annoying doctor/researcher who works for Aveda), not exasperation at her too-wild younger sister (who should be at school and not running social media for Aveda).
Because feeling too much would be bad.
You see, years ago a demon portal opened unleashing demons unto the world. When that happened, people standing close to those portals ended up getting powers. That’s how Aveda became a superhero and how her best friend Scott became a healer. Evie herself got a little something too, something she’d rather not fuel, because the last time she became too emotional, people got hurt.
But when Aveda is injured when fighting a demon cupcake and Evie has to take on superhero duties on her behalf, all those feelings start to surface. Just then weird new demons start showing up here and there: they move differently, they seem to be more aware and all of a sudden is Demon Danger.
I love nothing but a story that takes over the familiar and the beloved and do more with them – Heroine Complex peels back its outer carefree coating to reveal inner layer after inner layer of complex relationships, close friendships, difficult sisterhood and awesome romance. Take for example the fraught and complex relationship between Aveda and Evie. They have known each for years and have forged a bond out of protectiveness and friendship. The story here stretches that bond beyond its limits because Aveda has turned into an overbearing friend – but the great thing is, instead of taking that well-travelled route of ditching a friend because “she is not good for you” – which we see so much in fiction – we have these best friends talking things over, realising they have made mistakes and reforming their bond.
And it’s not only Aveda and Evie either – one of my absolutely favourite things about the book is the group of people that surround Aveda and Evie – including Evie’s sister Bea and Evie’s best friend (and Aveda’s) trainer Lucy. So basically Aveda and Evie had their own Scooby Gang, and I just love found family stories: everybody has a place, everybody has a say and it’s heart-warming to see heroines with such a supportive group of friends.
Then we have the romance – it happens slowly, growing from snark into banter, from friends-with-benefits to something lasting and I loved it. This book has a great emotional core, and Evie’s main arc is to learn to accept emotions as a good part of her life.
Add to that kick-ass fighting, awesome investigating, funny hijinks, surprising twists and you have what is essentially the literary equivalent to lemon and poppyseed cupcake: a delicious, fun cupcake that is also nutritious. THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS.
This book also has the dubious honour of having singed my brain with its hotness.
I, too, very much enjoyed Heroine Complex for so many of the same reasons that Ana mentions! This book is in a word: fun. It really IS the equivalent of a nutritious cupcake, if such a thing exists, because it’s both fun, has a larger message about friendship and self-acceptance, not to mention it hits important cultural touchpoints with its care in portraying Asian American main characters (who also are superheroes). I completely agree with what Ana has said above and in the interest of saving time I won’t reiterate the same points–except to quickly say the popgeekery is ON POINT, the romance is indeed hot (if slightly cheesy but in a good cheesy kind of way), and the relationships between Evie, her sister, Aveda/Annie, Lucy, and all of the other characters in this book are AWESOME.
Things I want to talk about:
Asian American Superheroes! AAA! There’s one part in this book, where Annie/Aveda and Evie watch a movie for the first time that stars Asian American superheroes (The Heroic Trio) and they are enraptured–
My own heart felt too big for my body, beating against my breastbone so hard that I was sure it was mere seconds away from bursting clean out of my chest. We knew we were witnessing something big enough to knock our world off its axis: superheroes who looked like us.
–and this, I think, is something that many readers, superhero and SFF fans can relate to. This moment is a watershed for the girl who will become Aveda Jupiter and her best friend Evie Tanaka; it is the moment that Aveda vows to become a superhero. It’s also an awesome meta-moment because Aveda Jupiter and Evie Tanaka ARE Asian American superheroes and just reading about them is freaking awesome. I love that this is a key moment and central character point from Evie’s perspective, and her flashbacks to her childhood with Annie/Aveda, how the two Asian American kids often struggled in class (because bringing Spam Musubi and fried dumplings instead of funfetti cake to class snack day is “weird” and the subject of ridicule), and how they formed their own powerful bond of friendship.
Another thing I want to talk about: Awesome World-Building! Heroine Complex takes place in modern day San Francisco, a few short years after a major supernatural event left the city’s residents with some interesting and varied superpowers. Some of these powers are more impressive (firestarting) than others (human GPS for cars, only). The aftershocks of that major supernatural event have resulted in Aveda Jupiter’s rise to local fame–portals opening up all over the city at intermittent times, portal demons coming through and taking the form of whatever is closest to them (cupcakes, cardboard cutouts, statues… did I mention cupcakes?). There’s a lot more to this story, and the portals, and the superpowers involved, and I was very pleased with the novel’s pacing and reveals of these key elements. Ultimately, Heroine Complex reads like an awesomely fun urban fantasy novel, playing with all of the right tropes and building on a familiar but slightly-different world, and it has been a long time since I’ve been so thoroughly enchanted with a contemporary urban fantasy.
Last thing I want to talk about: Sidekick as main character, and future plot/storylines! I love the fact that Evie is the protagonist of this planned series of books, and that she is the world-weary, calm, no-emotions-allowed, lucky-charms-eating sidekick (as opposed to, say, Aveda Jupiter). Evie’s perspective is so much more interesting, and unreliable, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her gradual realizations on her own life, her relationships, and her fears. Evie is a fully-dimensioned character and the kind of heroine I want to read about in an urban fantasy novel.
There are very few missteps or misgivings in Sarah Kuhn’s debut novel–and I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone go forth and give Heroine Complex a read, post-haste.
(Or at least before the cupcake portal demons start showing up.)
Ana: 8 – Excellent
Thea: 7 – Very Good
Buy the Book:
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- Clumsy shout out to Sarah Kuhn’s awesome novella One Con Glory ↩