SPOILER WARNING! As I’m reviewing all three books in a trilogy, it’s going to be difficult for me to discuss the books without minor spoilers, especially in books 2 and 3, as they naturally follow on from and develop stuff that’s gone before in the series. So if you want to approach this series entirely spoiler free – you may just want to read the synopsis for book 1.
#CBR10Bingo: Heroine Complex: So it begins
Heroine Complex – 4.5 stars
Evie Tanaka is the long-suffering and ever patient personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, San Francisco’s favourite superheroine. Friends from girlhood (when Aveda was still Annie Chang), Evie has become a master at anticipating Aveda’s many demands, handling her diva tantrums and keeping her life organised.
When Aveda gets injured, things become a lot more complicated. Aveda wants Evie to pose as her (in disguise) during a public appearance, and when danger strikes, it becomes obvious that Evie has superpowers of her own that she’s been repressing for years. Of course, the gossip press believes her flame wielding powers to be Aveda’s (who is still bed-ridden) and the demon threat they’ve been containing appears to be ramping up.
In addition to dealing with Aveda’s many demands and trying to control her suddenly public knowledge powers, Evie also has to do her best to raise her demanding teenage sister Bea (their mother died, their father is off “finding himself”), not to mention figure out her rather confusing and conflicting feelings for Nate, Team Aveda’s scientific adviser.
Heroine Worship – 4 stars
Aveda Jupiter and Evie Tanaka are now San Francisco’s cool demon fighting superhero duo, but when the video of Nate’s proposal to Evie goes viral, Aveda finds herself more and more in the role of sidekick. Nevertheless, Aveda is painfully aware that she hasn’t always been the best friend and is determined to be an absolutely magnificent maid of honour. While there’s been a lack of demonic attacks in the city in the last few months, a new sinister force, focusing specifically on brides, means that Evie could in fact be in danger, and Aveda will need to work hard to keep her best friend safe.
As well as trying to navigate her feelings about sharing the spotlight, as well as making sure she’s the very best and supportive friend she can be, Aveda is trying to figure out how to prove to Scott Cameron that she loves him, and if he can’t return the feelings – at least find her worthy of friendship.
#CBR10Bingo: Heroine’s Journey: Dream Vacation – San Francisco (and the bookstore Bea works at is heavily inspired by The Ripped Bodice, which while it is in L.A. in real life, is seriously a life goal of mine to visit)
Heroine’s Journey – 4 stars
Set a few years after the other two books, this one features Beatrice “Bea” Tanaka, Evie’s little sister as the heroine. Not really entirely sure what she wants to do with her life, except join Evie and Aveda as a superheroine, Bea is working part time in a bookstore/coffee shop and tinkering with improving gadgets for the superheroes. When she’s not trying to convince her sister and Aveda to let her join their team, she hangs out with her best friends, Sam and Leah. Bea has the ability to emotionally project, which has so far proven really useful in getting bookstore patrons to behave civilly, but her sister seems to see her as too impulsive and irresponsible to really join Team Aveda.
As people are going missing, and new forces appear to be threatening the city, strange messages are being left for Bea. She’s determined to prove her worth and show Evie and Aveda that she’s a valuable asset. Once she really gets going, is she leaning a bit too far towards the super-villain end of the spectrum to get the job done, though?
I’ve seen these books recommended in a number of places and by so many different people. Fun and adventurous urban fantasy novels with a diverse cast, where every single book is centred solidly on the relationship between women. Complex, different and interestingly flawed women, none of whom are perfect and need to work to be accepted by and occasionally forgiven for making dumb mistakes. There are “good” girls and “mean” girls. There are actual biological families and found ones.
Aveda, or Annie Chang, is Chinese. Evie and Beatrice are half Japanese. Aveda and Evie grew up watching superhero movies starring Michelle Yeoh and the importance of representation for Asian women is absolutely addressed, in all three novels. There are straight characters, as well as bisexual and lesbian ones. Some of the women have a lot of sexual experience, others barely any. Each of the three books features a different woman as the main protagonist, each with a different love interest, but more importantly, a number of personal and emotional issues to work through and conquer.
I very much enjoyed all three books, but Heroine Complex was my favourite, mainly because both Aveda/Annie and Bea were more hard work as protagonists. It seems book 3 was written in large part at The Ripped Bodice in LA, which is why the bookstore Bea works in is so inspired by it (and her best friend Leah is not only named for one of the proprietresses, but Fitzwilliams Waffles, their bookshop dog, is the model for Leah’s dog Pancake).
I had not realised until I checked out Sarah Kuhn’s blog after finishing the trilogy that she has a new contract for another three books and a novella set in this universe. I’m not sure whether it will concern the same characters or a whole new set of awesome superheroines, but based on this trilogy, I will absolutely be eagerly waiting for more.
Judging the books by their covers: All three books have bright, colourful covers with art that seems deliberately inspired by comic books (which seems perfectly appropriate considering they deal with superheroes). Jason Chan draws all the covers and makes each of the heroines distinctive and badass-looking, with a memorable scene from the book front and centre on the cover.
Crossposted on my blog.