Sunday, June 5, 2022

REVIEW: Heroine Complex (book) by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex is urban fantasy. It could also be considered superhero fiction. I bought my copy used.


A few years ago, demons tried to invade Earth via interdimensional portals. They failed, and for some reason several humans ended up with superpowers as a result. Aveda Jupiter (real name: Annie Chang) is one of them, and she's now San Francisco's most beloved and hardest working superhero, battling the much weaker demons that occasionally turn up. Evie Tanaka is her childhood friend and personal assistant. She's used to dealing with Aveda's tantrums and is, in fact, an expert at making sure Aveda's public persona remains perfect. Evie always keeps her emotions in control, even when work is stressful or Bea (her younger sister, who she's been raising since their parents died) acts particularly rebellious. Because she knows if she slips up, she might accidentally kill someone.

Most of the superpowers people got after the demons came were relatively weak. Aveda, for example, got telekinesis, but she can only just barely move things. Evie's power, on the other hand, is much more dramatic and terrifying: she can light things on fire. 

When Aveda injures herself, she convinces a reluctant Evie to pose as her for an event, during which Evie accidentally reveals her superpower. Now Evie's stuck pretending to be Aveda for a while longer, even though she'd much rather fade into the background and let Aveda have the spotlight.

Since there seems to be some confusion over on both the Goodreads and LibraryThing pages for this book: this is not a YA novel. Teens might very well enjoy it and that's fine, but as far as I can tell this was neither written as a YA novel nor marketed as one. Evie and Aveda are both adults (except during the short flashbacks to when they first met and became friends), and Evie ends up in a sexual relationship with one of the book's other characters. It's misleading to call this YA.

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way: overall I thought this was decent. Initially, I really liked Evie's "voice" (this was written in the first person), although I gradually became more and more frustrated with some of the messy emotional aspects, particularly with respect to her friendship with Aveda. Who, honestly, came across as a terrible friend during a good chunk of the book, despite the author's efforts to convince readers otherwise with a flashback to the time they first met and Annie (Aveda) wholeheartedly defended Evie against anyone who made her feel bad or embarrassed. If I remember right, they were the only two Asian girls at their school, and Annie's more forceful personality paired up well Evie, who preferred to be more in the background even back then. 

When Evie got her superpower, she had to be more tightly emotionally controlled in order to keep her fire ability from slipping out. Which lead to something she privately called her Dead-Inside-O-Tron, aka her lack of sexual desire. Evie wasn't written as asexual, and I felt like that wording emphasized that the way she was dealing with her superpower wasn't comfortable or natural for her, but I can understand why this might put some readers off.

Although there was definitely an overarching story involving demons, a large part of this book was focused on the characters' relationships and emotions. Evie and Aveda had to deal with the toxic aspects of their friendship if they wanted to salvage the things that originally made their friendship so strong. Evie and Bea had their own baggage to deal with, and great gobs of things that they needed to talk about. I was glad the book dealt with these things eventually, but there were plenty of moments that were hard to take up to that point.

Evie's romance with Nate was okay. I'm not really a fan of pairings between characters who constantly argue with each other, and that was basically their relationship up to the point Evie realized she was attracted to him. 

I plan to try the next book at some point. It looks like that one might focus more on Aveda (it seems like this was originally planned to be a trilogy, one book for each prominent female character, but then it continued on?).

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