100-Character Breakdown: A superheroine novel filled with elaborate, diverse characters, demonic cupcakes, and a lot of fun.
Genre: Urban fantasy
Publisher: DAW Books (July 2016)
When a novel opens with a superheroine’s assistant filming a battle against demonic cupcakes, it is undoubtedly going to be a fun book. And “fun” is perhaps the best word to describe Sarah Kuhn’s urban fantasy Heroine Complex, set in a San Francisco where demons regularly pop up in portals to possess whatever objects they find. Evie Tanaka was best friends with her boss Aveda Jupiter long before Aveda became San Francisco’s beloved superheroine. They met as the only Asian students in kindergarten and remained close ever since. Their lives took a major turn when a demon portal opened up eight years ago, giving them both powers. Evie’s always kept hers hidden, while Aveda took on the role of heroine. But after Aveda injures herself in training, Evie must take her place. Suddenly Evie’s powers take center stage. A new demonic threat is brewing, and, with Aveda injured, the heroine burden falls on her assistant.
Heroine Complex features a well-developed cast of diverse characters, a standout voice, and hilarity in all the right moments. The novel has a clear focal on female characters, all of whom are strong in their own right, and many of whom are diverse characters: a Chinese superheroine, her half-Japanese assistant, and her lesbian personal trainer. The representation is phenomenal, especially with the three-dimensionality of the characters. The character relationships are a central fixture in the story. Each member of the heroic team inspires change in someone else. These relationships include romance, and luckily all of the novel’s romance is full of emotion, heat, and major character development. Evie’s position as assistant to a heroine—the laundry, groceries, and superhero Twitter account are all nice touches—makes the novel incredibly original and untraditional. Evie is a reluctant hero. Aveda thrives on heroics. And the contrasts between the two make this book flourish.
While the characters are excellent, there are moments when the plot unravels too quickly. Some plot points are glossed over and beg to be more explored. However, this is the first in a planned series, so it’s likely those elements will be explored later. But with the voice, geeky humor, and elaborate characters, it is absolutely a fun novel. And despite the fun, comedic nature of the book, Kuhn weaves in serious emotional depth in the form of loss, loneliness, and repressed pasts. This is certainly a genre novel, but for those who love the idea of demonic cupcakes and Asian superheroines, it’s a home run.