One of the standard argument against diversity from the “anti-SJW” contingent is that adding diversity is the opposite of fun. Thinking about minorities and discrimination and worrying about whether your book is too white is just too damn serious and too-PC and it kills all the excitement and adventure.
HEROINE COMPLEX by Sarah Kuhn shows, to the contrary, that diversity can add fun to a book. The stuff I enjoyed most involves protagonist Evie reminiscing about her life as a Japanese American, alongside her strongminded bestie, Annie.
Getting mocked for bringing “weird” food to school in their lunchboxes (and noticing the same kids who sneered at them grew up into foodies who love Asian cuisine). Endlessly rewatching the movie Heroic Trio because it showed Asian women who were superheroes. Annie’s tossed-off remark when Evie has to impersonate her that sure, Annie’s Chinese and Evie’s Japanese, but white people won’t notice the difference. Stuff like this, the little minutiae of Evie’s life, gives the book a different flavor from most urban fantasies.
The book is set in San Francisco a couple of years after a demonic portal opened, serving as the trigger event that endowed certain people with superpowers. Annie re-invented herself as Aveda Kevadra, demon-slaying superhero — essentially a standard butt-kicking urban fantasy protagonist, but doing it publicly rather than in the shadows, and milking it for celebrity and fame. When she’s injured during a fight, she recruits Evie to step in for her, aided by a little illusion magic. Trouble is, Evie’s spent her whole life clinging to the shadows, happy to be Aveda’s personal assistant rather than in the spotlight. Not only does she have to endure the public eye, but new demonic attacks force Evie to demonstrate she has powers of her own (fire throwing). Now what?
It’s a good set up, and “shy character forced to bloom” is a story that appeals to me, but Evie was just too miserable for me to connect with. She hates her job, has no sex life, struggles to remember why she and Annie are friends, feels miserable in her own skin and hates being a metahuman freak (that’s way too overdone in comics for me to like it here). It’s nice when she and Annie/Aveda finally get their mojo back, but up to that point, Aveda’s such a jerk I kept wishing Evie would slap her soundly instead of putting up with it.
Evie’s boyfriend is so hyper-rational he felt like he’d wandered over from Big Bang Theory. Evie’s sister Bea goes from a teenager with a drinking problem to cleaning up her act overnight. And while I realize the villain’s meant to be an idiot, I still couldn’t buy “I’m going to explain my evil plans while the hero wriggles free of my trap” as a climax (I promptly went back and re-edited the climax of No One Can Slay Her to avoid the same).
The Asian-American elements, though, remained fun and entertaining.
#SFWApro. Cover art by Jason Chan, all rights remain with current holder.