Years after a portal opened in San Francisco, giving some of its residents superpowers, Evie Tanaka is raising her little sister and working for her best friend, a superhero. It’s not all sunshine, though–Aveda Jupiter, the superhero, is increasingly tyrannical and demanding, and it’s all Evie can do to put up with her mood swings. When Aveda is injured and demands Evie masquerade as her until she’s recovered, and Evie agrees against her better judgement, their relationship comes to a crisis, just as the demons from the other side of the portal begin to evolve and prepare for a potential takeover.
Before I even get into the book, I have to compliment the cover by Jason Chan. It accurately depicts a scene from the book (with some small artistic license), right down to the clothes the characters are wearing. It portrays the two women, both East Asian, distinctly–Evie in particular actually looks mixed-race as she is in the text, which I appreciated. The cupcake demons on the cover give a good idea of the tone of the book–frothy but with a bite.
I found it the perfect book to read in easily digestible, bite-size segments. However, it’s not a fluffy read–under the lampshaded ridiculousness of the premise, Kuhn digs deep into the dysfunctional relationships between the characters. So convincing was the toxic-yet-loving relationship between Evie and Aveda that I was actually slightly dissatisfied when it’s basically solved through open communication and intervention–Aveda’s self-centeredness might be something she just wasn’t aware of, but her outsize mood swings made me feel awful for her, and hope she gets some psychological help in the sequels.
There’s plenty of romance in addition to the friendship–Evie suddenly finds herself attracted to a scientist/doctor who studies demons and tries to fit life into spreadsheets, dismissing Evie’s way of looking at the world. They both come to see the value in each others’ perspective, and while initially the emotionally-repressed Evie wants sex with no strings attached (an interesting reversal of gender roles), she eventually falls in love. Nate, the love interest, is a hot tortured-hero type, but this is livened up by a) Evie’s own propensity to play the self-sacrificing, repressed hero and b) his genuine interest in science and the scientific method. Plus, it’s an archetype I enjoy anyway.
The one character I didn’t really buy was Evie’s little sister Bea, who is both effortlessly hypercompetent in a way that doesn’t make sense for a sixteen-year-old, even a sixteen-year-old genius, and also prone to making plot-necessary but unbelievably stupid decisions. And I will believe in a lot of stupid decisions. This was over-the-top. I will put the spoilery details under a read more.
She decides to join the antagonist and become a demon-human hybrid because she feels betrayed by her sister over an unrelated matter. Angry though she is at Evie, she has no reason to believe the antagonist will help her in any way or is remotely a good person. Luckily, she has Evie to rescue her.
Despite this flaw, Heroine Complex is a charming book, taking as its protagonist someone who lives in another’s shadow and asking what might lead them to choose that kind of life. This is mirrored in the ultimate identity of the antagonist, though I won’t spoil who that is. Mixing superhero and urban fantasy tropes in a new and entertaining blend, it wraps up satisfyingly while leaving plenty of room for the planned sequels.