by Sarah Kuhn
Series: Heroine Complex #4
Also in this series: Heroine's Journey
Publisher: Daw Books
Publication Date: July 7, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The fourth book in the smart, snarky, and action-packed Heroine series follows Evie Tanaka, Aveda Jupiter, and Bea Tanaka as they combat a new supernatural threat.
Everything in Evie Tanaka's life is finally perfect. As a badass superheroine, she defends San Francisco from demon invasion on the regular. Her relationships with superhero partner Aveda Jupiter, little sister Bea, and hot, half-demon husband Nate have never been stronger. Maybe it's possible for a grad school dropout turned put-upon personal assistant turned superhero to have it all?
As if things can't get any better, Evie learns she's pregnant. She's overjoyed, but also worried about whether she's cut out for motherhood. Before she can dwell on her dilemma too much, a women's college reports a string of mysterious "hauntings," and Evie and Aveda are called in to investigate. When the hauntings turn deadly, they decide to move into the dorms full-time, going undercover as grad students.
As she lives out a bizarre version of her grad school life, Evie can't help but wonder about the road not taken: what would her life be like if she'd stayed here instead of pursuing superheroing with Aveda?
I’ve been a fan of this series since the very first book, and I was so happy to see that this book was once again from Evie’s POV (after a book each from Aveda and Bea’s POVs.) After the bombshell in the last book, I was very interested to see how Evie was going to handle everything, and this book did not disappoint. This is the fourth book in the Heroine Complex series and I wouldn’t recommend reading these out of order. These books are heavily character driven, and each book builds on the relationships of the last one.
“The two of you undercover?” Bea snorted. “Sounds like a classic Aveda Jupiter scheme—the chance of shenanigans is off the charts.”
Evie has the perfect life – a great career as one half of the Evie Tanaka/Aveda Jupiter superhero duo, a healthy best friend relationship with the other half of that duo, a marriage with the love of her life, and the reassurance that the little sister she basically raised is all grown up and doing well, and now she’s – surprise! – pregnant. So why does everything seem to be falling apart? Besides the all-day nausea and the need for constant naps, Nate’s treating her like a science experiment and she can’t help think about the baby without a sense of dread. So a little time away for a weekend trip with Aveda to the college she attended grad school at is perfect, right? Dropping out of grad school – after burning down the library when she lost control of her fire powers – was a turning point in her life, and perhaps going back will help her realize just how far she’s come from that overwhelmed and sad kid. But besides her out of control pregnancy hormones, the ghost sightings at Morgan College have suddenly turned violent, and Evie and Aveda decide to go undercover as TAs to investigate. Can confronting the ghosts on campus also help Evie confront the ghosts of her past?
A large part of Evie’s journey had been accepting her emotions instead of suppressing them, and by extension also accepting her superheroine powers. It’s no shock that being given a chance to relive her grad school days brings up all sorts of emotions for Evie, especially around her relationship with her old professor and boyfriend, Richard. He’s frankly a dirtbag of the first order who had no qualms about having a relationship with one of his own students and belittled her constantly. It’s especially gross because in his role as a pop culture professor, he puts down women of color for enjoying media that centers and empowers them. After all, it can’t be great unless it was written by an old white guy, right? While Evie’s wrestling with why and how she ever put up with this guy, it also doesn’t help that she’s having communication problems with her husband Nate. As primarily a romance reader, this did hit a few of my HEA alarm bells (it’s generally accepted that once a couple gets their HEA, they stay in love forever with no issues) but at the end of the book, I felt like it was necessary. Both Evie and Nate have messy pasts and lots of even more messy emotions, and learning to own them is just as essential in their relationship as it is for the rest of Evie’s life.
I love the partnership between Evie and Aveda. They’ve both grown tremendously over the course of the books, and it was wonderful to see how Aveda navigated being supportive of Evie while also calling her on some of her behaviors. There is, in fact, a lot about the power of friendship, and not just the main characters. There’s several super sweet friendships among the group of female and non-binary college students that Evie and Aveda fall into and they made a nice foil to their own relationship.
“I’d come back to Morgan College to close the door on the past, but I’d been going out of my way to avoid it, to pretend like it didn’t bother me. To act like Scared Mouse Evie had been left so far in the dust, she didn’t even exist anymore.”
But what I loved most about this book was its take on the “women can have it all!” narrative – that, obviously, if we want it enough, we can figure how to have a career, a romantic relationship, and a family without shortchanging one or all of them – or ourselves. Evie can’t help but compare Sad Mouse Evie (as she calls her grad student self), who was exhausted all the time from juggling her responsibility for kid Bea, TA’ing classes, and trying to finish her own coursework, to her present-day self. What would life have been like if she’d been able to live in the dorms with her best friend, attend raucous dorm parties, and make late night runs to Taco Bell? Was dropping out of grad school and going to work as Aveda’s assistant really the best path for her life? Evie has clung to a certain interpretation of those years of her life, and it’s only while she’s back at college with motherhood on the horizon that she’s finally forced to deal with it. It’s a very timely realization – about the importance of rage, and about using your voice to speak up for others and, most importantly, yourself,
Overall, I absolutely adored this book and the chance to catch up with Evie again, and I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next one!