Not Your Father’s Comic Book Hero(ine): Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Confession time! I adore comic book movies. There’s something about the over-the-top storylines, the super powers, the suspension of belief, and the genuine enthusiasm that (usually) goes into making such projects. I am a novice comic *reader*, however. When I come across a novel that taps into those same elements that are found in the best superhero stories, I’m almost always thrilled. I will forgive a great many flaws for a good comic book style story. I believe this is why I first came to love urban fantasy. Magic or otherworldly elements in the “real” world were so fascinating to my younger self. As the years have gone by, sadly, I have started to fall a little bit out of love with this particular sub-genre. I’m not sure what it was — maybe the prevalence of vampires and leather pants — but it all just started to blend together. It was starting to become more than a little tiresome.

Then I read Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex, and my heart grew three sizes that day.

Heroine Complex (2016)
Written by: Sarah Kuhn
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Superhero
Pages: 378 (Kindle)
Series: Book One of Heroine Complex
Publisher: DAW

Why I Chose It: I was Going Through Some Things, and this book looked as if it had just the right amount of fun and spunk that I needed to cheer up my life at the time.

The Premise:

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 secret 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.

Some spoilers below.

I read somewhere that this was a kind of The Devil Wears Prada + superheroines, and that’s a pretty great description. That’s just the starting point for this delightful novel. This entire book, which I consumed in roughly two days, was pure, unadulterated fun. It starts out in a bakery, with an all-out battle against DEMONIC CUPCAKES. You see, in the world of Heroine Complex, demons open up portals and pour through it, determined to invade our plane of existence. These demons are, unfortunately for their sake, not the brightest beings. They imprint upon the first thing that they happen to see when they come spilling out of their respective portals. This leads to some pretty comical circumstances. Unfortunately for the readers, almost all of these battles have already happened. We learn about them throughout the story, and I would have enjoyed reading about them in more detail, but we take what we are given. The opening scene, while amusing in the bare bones reality, still lays out the actual danger that is present when demons invade. They’re dangerous little buggers who could injure and even kill someone if there wasn’t anything to stop them.

Fortunately for San Francisco, Aveda Jupiter has taken it upon herself to fight these demons whenever they pop into reality. This all began, we are told, several years earlier when a large portal briefly opened in the city and allowed for a group of humanoid demons to pass through. The portal closed almost immediately, and the would-be invaders perished. When they died, their abilities passed to humans in the city. Aveda gained a slight case of telekinesis. She used this, and a lot of hard, physical work, to become the city’s premiere superheroine.

She doesn’t do it alone, however. As the above premise already stated, Aveda has an assistant, one Evie Tanaka. Evie and Aveda (who began life as Annie Chang) have been best friends since kindergarten. They bonded over some really ugly experiences that year. Evie and Annie are the only two Asian children in their class and both weathered torment over the snacks that their respective parents sent to school to share with their classmates (homemade soup dumplings in Annie’s case and Spam musubi in Evie’s). After five-year-old Annie stood up for Evie by eating the entire plate of Spam musubi (and becoming subsequently sick), their roles were cemented. Annie would stand up for Evie, and Evie would help her be fabulous.

I loved the fact that Evie and Aveda were actually, genuinely FRIENDS. Fictional friendships are often portrayed in wildly unrealistic terms. These two women have a long, storied history involving a lot of McDonalds’ french fries, adventures at the prom, and a love of Hong Kong action movies, primarily a film called The Heroic Trio. They bicker and sometimes even argue. I was so pleased to see that their friendship remains strong and true throughout the story. It’s tested more than a few times, but they come out the way that they began: best friends. It’s refreshing. Fictional women in urban fantasies often have few or no female friends, and the ones that they do have are often shallowly portrayed, making for an extremely unrealistic experience. I loved seeing Evie and Annie love and support each other, even when they weren’t entirely getting along. It reminds me of my own friendships.

My one “complaint” (and it isn’t even really a complaint) is that the romance aspect came out of pretty much nowhere. I’m a fan of the slow burn and the gradual lead up to the inevitable bedroom Olympics. Perhaps the author didn’t know whether or not there would be a sequel when she wrote it?  Either way, it was still a fun part of the book, and it was nice for Evie to get a chance to let her hair down, and I think that the gentleman she ends up with is a good match for her. I’m hoping to see their story continue in the sequel, Heroine Worship.

A final thought that must be mentioned: we need diversity in all forms of entertainment. I’m saying it plainly because it’s a simple fact. Seeing positive representations of people who are like you is mind-blowing sometimes (ask me about how I felt after watching Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman). Heroine Complex is most certainly not a YA novel, but I hope that young adults pick it up. I hope that young Asian women read this book and find empowerment and inspiration. I want young white men to read it and internalize the idea that anyone can be a hero. I very badly want sheltered individuals living in small towns to read this novel and realize that we live in a big world where people are more alike than they are different. So what I’m saying, I suppose, is that I want everyone to read this book, because there is a great need for it and books like it. Supporting this one is a good way to make that need known.


  • Shara White August 23, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    This just looks like a lot of fun!

    • Casey Price August 23, 2017 at 6:44 pm

      It is! Pure fun. Recommended at all times, but especially if you need something to perk up your day.

      • Shara White August 23, 2017 at 8:46 pm

        If I read faster, I would totally devour this right now. I need something perky….

  • Lane Robins August 23, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    I really enjoyed this. It’s a romp of a book. I didn’t have as much luck with the sequel though.

    • Casey Price August 23, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      Hmm. I have the sequel and will be reading it sometime soon. We have similar taste in books, so I hope it works for me. We shall see!

      • Shara White August 23, 2017 at 8:47 pm

        Ooooh, will Casey and Lane agree? We’ll find out! 🙂

  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier August 24, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    It should come as no surprise that I have been eyeing this book since it came out. This review has convinced me to take the plunge 🙂

    • Casey Price August 24, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Yay! I hope you like it!

  • Kelly McCarty August 31, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    This book doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I clicked on the We Need Diverse Books link and definitely got some good recommendations. Thanks for telling me about that site.


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