ARC Review – Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Title: Heroine Complex
Author: Sarah Kuhn
Expected Date of Publication: July 5th 2016
Page Count: 368 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (taken from Goodreads)

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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.

Short Overview

I’m so impressed with this book – LOVE that there are several important female characters and that two main characters are Asian-American. Love the humor and wacky hijinx along with character development and thoughtful inclusion of how their cultural heritage has impacted their upbringing and informed their (distinctly different) personalities. This is everything I’ve ever wanted in a book! ❤

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In Greater Detail

Main Characters:

I enjoyed Evie’s character immensely! I don’t take that as a given, there’s an unfortunately large number of novels I’ve read with unlikable protagonists that we’re MEANT to adore, but I instead find frustrating and immature and just drive me nuts. So I’m very happy with Evie; she’s funny,  witty, very supportive of her loved ones and all round a great person.:D

She also has her flaws, naturally – she’s a doormat and gets taken advantage of by those she cares about because she can’t stand up to them, plus she has the ostrich approach to problems, ie. sticks her head in the sand and pretends they don’t exist. But I do like that she’s a little self-aware, there was one point late in the novel where she was completely ignored another character because she didn’t know how to deal with their issues, and I cracked up at this:

‘I’d like to be able to say that I took the mature route. That I untangled my feelings and conveyed them in a calm, precise, thoroughly grown-up manner. Instead, I avoided him for two whole weeks…Yeah, I took pretty much the most immature route available to me.’

It’s just so thoroughly human and I completely relate. You can know what the right thing to do is, but lack the courage to follow that course of action! I also occasionally practice the Ostrich Method, to my detriment…

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I did not pay enough attention to the part of the blurb that mentioned Evie’s boss was her childhood best friend. I glanced past that and assumed this was going to be a Devil Wear Prada-take on the superhero genre. That was such a shallow assessment and I am ashamed of myself for dismissing Evie’s employer out of hand, but in my defense, I’ve never really seen a protagonist’s boss be given this much depth and characterization and be so influential in the storyline!

Aveda could’ve been the typical self-obsessed demanding diva character, but she was skilfully developed into a well-rounded three-dimensional character in her own right. Which isn’t to say that she’s NOT selfish and high-maintenance, but that isn’t all there is to her. I’m really pleased because it would’ve been so easy to fall back on the old stereotypes, but the author put in a lot more effort and made Aveda real and sympathetic. She just wants to be appreciated and sometimes she’s a bit (okay, a LOT) overzealous in her need to be adored and validated.

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What really helped sell me on her was that Evie and Aveda (or ‘Annie’ as she was known back then) grew up together and were BFFs from primary school onwards. A lot of times, I see protagonists put up with a ridiculous amount of stress and abuse in the workplace, and it never makes sense to me that they continue to work there. But in this case, Evie’s got a lot of history and emotional investment in Aveda, and she’s been dealing with her bossy behavior and mood swings since they were little girls, so it comes naturally to her.

Even though Aveda takes her for granted, there’s the memory of all the good times they had together and Evie reflects on how Aveda’s saved her multiple times from schoolyard humiliation to helping her cope with adulthood trauma. How could she be anything but loyal to Aveda? This really hit home for me, I’ve had a friend that hasn’t always done right by me, but because we’ve had that relationship for over a decade, it’s very hard to walk away. You make justifications, you overlook slights, you try to make it work because they’ve been such an important figure in your life. I found Evie and Aveda’s interactions to be a very realistic and nuanced depiction of female friendships. It’s not all slumber parties and nail polish, nor is it OTT bitching and back-stabbing as often depicted elsewhere. There had to be something to draw you to one another in the first place and something real to keep you together, but it can be hard going in the middle and you need to have genuine love for each other to stay together.

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Background:

I really enjoyed how their heritage was so matter-of-factly incorporated into the story. I seized upon the fact that the two characters on the cover and mentioned in the blurb were Asian-American because YAY, REPRESENTATION, and I’m glad to report that this is definitely done justice.It’s not necessary for everything to revolve around their ethnicity, of course, I’m not a fan of preachy ‘after-school specials’ nor am I into stories which are all about the suffering and angst and prejudice minorities have to deal with (I already deal with that in real life, this is meant to be an escape for me!), but I do expect some influence from the culture that said characters are raised in or how being a minority has affected them.

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And  Heroine Complex provides that in the way that Aveda tries and fails to impress her parents who have high expectations and aren’t happy with their outspoken rowdy daughter who earns B’s instead of straight A’s. Plus I recognized so many of the anecdotes about classmates mocking Evie and Aveda’s ‘weird eyes’ and traditional lunches from my own childhood, and really felt the throwaway quips, for instance:

“Let’s discuss the many reasons why this is a bad idea. Number one: we look nothing alike.”

We’re both Asian. That’s enough for some people.”

I rolled my eyes. She was Chinese, I was half-Japanese. Even our Asian-ness didn’t match.

YES. Oh, damn, yes. I’m half-Indian and a friend at high school was Persian – I’m much darker-skinned than her and yet people kept asking if we were sisters. Because minorities are all related, yo!

Aveda spotted a poster (which) featured three Asian women striking badass poses.

“Evie, look,” Aveda breathed, smashing her nose against the display case. “Asian lady superheroes.”

My own heart felt too big for my body, beating against my breastbone so hard that I was sure it was mere seconds away from bursting clean out of my chest. We knew we were witnessing something big enough to knock our world off its axis: superheroes who looked like us.

This so hard. It reminds me of the epic disappointment that was the recent Quantico tv series – I was so damn thrilled to have an Indian woman as the lead, as an FBI agent, no less! How badass! And yet it was a complete mess, lol, I can’t even begin to tell you. White people don’t get it,  if they don’t like something, there’s literally thousands of other options for them, but it sucks for people like me that have such limited or lacking representation.

On a more positive note, I’m so glad that this book exists to do its part to fill that void!


Supporting Characters:

I liked most of the other characters that populated the world of Heroine Complex. Nate and Scott in particular were both great, I enjoyed the roles both men played in the plot. So relieved and frankly ecstatic that there was no love triangle or any such drama, YAAS. They were wonderfully level-headed and supportive, even if they bickered with both ladies about the best way to approach matters, but at the end of the day, they were all on the same team and whatever personal spats may have occurred didn’t matter when the safety of the city was at stake. I love that in a man, able to put aside feelings for the greater good!

On the downside, we have Bea. Evie’s little sister was a complete pain in the ass and I tried to like her, I WANTED not to loathe her completely, and yet. Remember the part above regarding Evie’s doormat tendencies around loved ones? Yep, Bea ran amok, broke the rules, caused scenes, was totally out of control and yet Evie fell for the guilt-trip or beat herself up for not doing a good enough job. I reluctantly tolerated Bea by the middle of the novel, but by the end, I was so furious with her and I have never wished more for the ability to reach into a book to bitch-slap a character. She needed a lot more redeeming qualities to make her palatable, unfortunately. I know Dawn got a lot of grief from Buffy fans, but Bea is next level infuriating.

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Yes, worse than that. Oy vey.


Plot:

This is the most unique story I’ve ever read. The blurb doesn’t even begin to prepare you for the wacky world Evie lives in! Murderous cupcakes are only the beginning, lol. Kudos to the author for bringing something totally new to the table, I was in complete suspense the whole way through. I consider myself pretty well-read in the supernatural/fantasy genre, and while I don’t mind reading about werewolves and vampires, it’s so refreshing to discover something brand new! You know how in Twilight or the like, you’re waiting several chapters for the protagonist to figure out, ‘Yes, Virginia, he IS a vampire’? Welp, there’s none of that here, I’m as baffled and in the dark as Evie and co about what the demonic shenanigans portend.

Evie’s ongoing struggle with her powers and how this is resolved is A+ storytelling. It might be a little more mainstream than the above-mentioned demonic goings-on, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling to read about how she copes with her literal fire-power. I’ve always thought it would be awesome to have cool powers and never understood why so many characters mope about it (‘oh, no, I’m a fairy/elf/witch! this is the worst ever’), but Evie has destructive powers barely under her control. :O I definitely don’t envy that, so I sympathized with her dismay and efforts to put it behind her.


Romance:

There is a romantic arc and I LOVE it. It wasn’t a major part at the beginning and I didn’t realize it was going to feature as much as it did later in the story, but I really enjoyed the developing relationship! I found it quite swoon-worthy and maybe made happy dolphin noises at some of the sweet intimate moments ❤

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Constructive Criticism:

The blogger and her assistant were more along the lines of the shallow Mean Girls without much substance. They were nasty and obnoxious and I didn’t understand why our heroes gave them the time of day or bowed to pressure so much. One blogger can’t wield that much influence, it’d be different if it were a powerful news channel bringing pressure to bear, but Maisy & Shasta came across as small fry and I would’ve expected someone with Aveda’s ego to overlook them and find someone else to cover her exploits, surely there’d be other people fascinated enough by her superhero adventures to cover it in the media!

Occasionally the characters’ deductions about the central mystery left me a little confused and I didn’t understand the conclusions they leapt to at a couple points. Evie’s grand plan to face down the villain also perplexed me given her erratic control over her powers; it didn’t make much sense to face the Big Bad without a properly functioning weapon!

There was also a significant reveal late in the game about one of the characters that came out of nowhere and hadn’t been foreshadowed at all. It wasn’t bad, I just thought it was a little too much to be introduced that close to the climax and it was a distraction from the drama of OMG, THE WORLD COULD BE ENDING to focus on this development.

But for the most part, it all flowed smoothly, characterization was fantastic and the world-building was smartly executed and conveyed to the audience without clunky info-dumps, so these are only minor niggles.


Personal Rating:

5 out of 5 kitties adore this book!

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Disclaimer: I received this book free from NetGalley & Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. 

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2 thoughts on “ARC Review – Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

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