Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Heroine Complex #1
Published by DAW on July 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
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 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.
I read Heroine Complex on my way to Worldcon. What could be more appropriate than reading a book about superheroes on my way to a science fiction convention? And it was even better, because it was a book about superheroines!
One question that superhero origin stories always have to answer is: how did it happen? As far as we know there are no super-powered beings in our current world, so some explanation needs to be provided to ground what makes this world different.
In this case, it’s a demon invasion from another universe that hits San Francisco. When the portal explosively opens between the demon world and ours, some people near Ground Zero immediately discover that they have acquired some minor superpowers. There doesn’t seem to be anything major, just some telekinesis, or a bit of GPS enhancement.
(Someone needs to explain to me why it’s always either San Francisco or New Orleans. Those two cities seem to be the hot spots for everything other-worldly)
But one woman rises above all others: Aveda Jupiter. Not because her minor telekinesis is all that hot, but because she just plain wants to be a “real” superhero way more than anyone could possibly imagine. So she works at it. Partly, she pulls a Batman – she just works her body until she is incredibly fit and surprisingly strong for her size.
She also works social media. Every time she takes down one of the continuing minor demon invasions, her team of assistants makes sure that every super-moment is live streamed to Aveda Jupiter super-fans worldwide.
Although there is a bit of a team, most of Team Aveda’s work falls on one much put upon personal assistant, Evie Tanaka. If there is one thing that Evie is good at, it is taking care of all of Aveda Jupiter’s shit, including the shit she doles out to her close friends and supporters every minute the camera is off.
Aveda Jupiter is a super diva, and Evie is the person who takes care of her, no matter how super demanding or super obnoxious she gets.
Because way back when Evie Tanaka and Annie Chang were girls watching Michelle Yeoh in the Hong Kong fantasy adventure superhero movie The Heroic Trio (this movie really does exist – see poster at left) Annie was Evie’s superhero. The brave and outgoing Annie always stood up for the shy and retiring Evie, not matter what the circumstances, so when Annie used the demon invasion to morph herself into Aveda Jupiter, Evie was right there for her.
But just as Annie kept all Evie’s secrets when they were girls, she’s keeping a big one for Evie now that they are both young women. The difference is that Annie, while she has always been the leader of their friendship, now thinks more about her image as Aveda Jupiter than she does about what got her where she is.
And Aveda Jupiter has accustomed herself to being the center of her new universe, so when she needs something she expects everyone to provide. Especially her long-suffering friend Evie, no matter what the cost might be to Evie herself.
When Aveda needs a stand-in, she doesn’t just ask Evie to step out of her comfort zone, she demands it. And Evie, used to giving in to Aveda at every point, steps way out of her safe place in the shadows to stand front and center as a pretend Aveda Jupiter.
Until it all stops being pretend and Evie has to become the superhero she’s been hiding all along.
Escape Rating B+: This story is a whole lot of fun, especially if you like urban fantasy in general, or superhero books in particular. Evie and Annie are interesting superheroines, and not just because they are among the very few Asian American women who take on that role.
But the beginning of the story makes for a bit of uncomfortable reading. Aveda Jupiter is a bitch, and she treats Evie, her best friend from childhood, like dirt. Aveda’s diva-esque tantrums are nasty, and as a reader one can’t help but wonder why Evie keeps taking her shit. Most of us would have bailed long ago.
It feels good when Evie starts standing up for herself, but her first steps on that journey are just a bit painful. We end up wanting Aveda to get taken down a peg or six long before it finally happens.
Built into this story is a hilarious but insightful takedown of the power and pitfalls of social media. The way that this story both builds up the power of social media and shows how easily it can turn one of its former darlings into virtual roadkill is fascinating to watch.
While the nature of the secret that Evie is hiding seems almost transparent from very early on, it’s the story of how Evie really comes into her own that makes this fun. That Aveda gets to see what a monster she’s turned into is icing on a fun cake.
That there turn out to be real monsters just made the story that much more fun, and made it fit perfectly within the comic book universe from which it deftly springs. If you like humor and a bit of humble pie with your superheroes, this book is a treat.