Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Fantasy: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Winner of the Nebula Award

Finalist for Hugo Award

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR | BuzzFeed | Tor.com | BookPage | Library Journal | Publishers Weekly

 

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes…” begins Naomi Novik’s reimagining of an old fairy tale. Their Dragon is the lord of the valley, who collects tribute annually in the form of goods and gold. He is a wizard, who repays his people by keeping the Woods at bay and protecting them against other harmful magic. Once every ten years, though, he collects tribute of a different sort. A seventeen-year-old girl comes to live with him. She stays in his tower for ten years, then is returned to her parents. She never stays, though, not for longer than a few weeks. She goes, usually to the city, where she may marry or pursue a career, but never returns to the valley.

 

The girls say he never touches them. Never harms them. Never uses them for anything other than basic cooking. Still, few people if any ever move away from the valley. They feel a rootedness, a connection to the land and to their homes. This makes these girls stand out. None of them stay. Not a single one.

 

Kasia has always been the one who would be selected. She is pretty, talented, a good cook and seamstress. She is smart and witty and of the exact age to be chosen. Her best friend, Agnieszka, will be sorry to see her go. But Agnieszka is clumsy and average looking and has no obvious talents. Everyone knows that the magician always takes either the prettiest or the most talented girl, and Kasia is both of those things.

 

Until Agnieszka is chosen.

 

The reasons for choosing Agnieszka become clear as the story progresses, and her story moves from the tower to the capital city then back to the valley again. The Dragon and Agnieszka must work together to fight the growing evil of the Woods, an ancient evil that is seeking more power and more land and threatens the home that Agnieszka loves so dearly.

 

Novik is a remarkable story teller, and I finished her book (435 pages) in a single Saturday marathon read. Agnieszka is a bold and fierce heroine, smart and determined and loyal. She knows her own mind and is willing to claim what she wants. The story is rich and nuanced and stirring, filled with magic and action and romance and everything a fantasy should have. It even has a prince in it, though he is anything but charming!

 

One thing I love is the way Agnieszka changes those around her. Enemies become friends, or at least stop being enemies, when she is able to impact them. The Dragon’s feelings for the Valley, the people, and Agnieszka herself evolve through the story. Several others change sides because of the pure mindedness of Agnieszka. She may not think much of herself, but she has a way of changing hearts and minds that has much less to do with magic and much more to do with her character.

 

Uprooted is a special novel, and Naomi Novik is a gifted writer.

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Fantasy: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Winner: 2017 Hugo Award

Winner: 2017 Alex Award

Winner: 2017 Locus Award

Winner: 2016 Nebula Award

Nominated: 2017 World Fantasy Award

 

Nancy is new to Eleanor West’s school. Her parents heard this was the perfect place, maybe the only place, that could help her. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children took children like Nancy, helped children like Nancy, children who had disappeared from this world then reappeared with strange, unbelievable stories of other worlds, of places they went to where they felt at home and were understood and belonged. Ms. West listened to the concerns of these parents and grandparents and loved ones and assured them. We’ve had great success with such children, she said. We know you want your happy and well-adjusted child back to normal, she told them. We can help, she said.

 

It was all a lie. But parents and grandparents and loved ones needed to hear the lie, believe the lie, believe that their child who returned in the flesh would one day return to her or his “right” mind. So they dropped off their Kades or their Jills or their Christophers or their Nancys and drove home, looking forward to the day when their child would forget all that nonsense and truly come home.

 

Ms. West, though, knew the truth. The children she kept were not delusional. They had traveled to other worlds. They had found home, their true home, and then somehow were wrenched from that true home for their hearts and returned to a world where they did not, could not, never would fit in. The only help she could give them was to help them come to terms with their situation. Perhaps they could go back to those other worlds someday. Most couldn’t. Until they could, or until they were ready to deal with this world, they had a home with Ms. West. Their parents could not, would not, understand or accept the truth. Few ever would, or could. But Ms. West could and did. For she had also traveled, she also knew there was a world that fit her perfectly, and until she could return to that world permanently she would do everything she could to provide at least one safe, true place for other travelers to stay.

 

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway has won an amazing number of awards, probably because it recognizes the longing in so many hearts for a place to belong. The old Christian song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through,” expresses an ache felt by many hearts in and out of churches. There has got to be more, there has got to be a place. Somewhere, someone understands ME, knows exactly who I am, sees me, the real me. In a world full of differences, full of people who march to their own tunes, we still live lives of “quiet desperation,” alone and aware that we are alone. We meet and mingle and mate and still fail to truly connect with others. And we hope, though hope dims a bit each year, that somewhere we will stumble through a door into a world where we actually fit in.

 

Soon after Nancy arrives, her roommate is found dead, hands removed at the wrist. More murders ensue, each grisly and each with very specific body parts removed. Some of the removals were done post mortem, but others were done while the victim was still alive, adding to the horror of the act. And as the bodies mount, so do the questions. Who? Why? Who would be next? And not incidentally, how could this place of haven survive becoming a serial killer’s hunting ground?

 

Every Heart a Doorway is not a long book, but it is deep. For anyone who sometimes (or usually) feels lost in this world, this is a book that says, “You are not alone.” That may be the most powerful gift any book can give.

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper, S.A. Chakraborty

Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy Book 2, S.A. Chakraborty

Fantasy: The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy, Book 2, S.A. Chakraborty

 

S.A. Chakraborty’s debut novel, The City of Brass, was one of the most highly honored fantasy novels of 2017. Her 2019 sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, continues the epic story of the healer Nahri, the djinn Dara, and the prince Ali.

 

Set five years after the events of the first novel, Nahri is enduring her forced marriage to Ali’s brother and continuing to learn the healing arts. Her magical abilities are growing, allowing her to heal more complex problems, but her political acumen still is lacking when it comes to dealing with challenges in the court. Still, she is the Banu Nahida, a title which not only reflects her healing ability but also carries religious and political leadership within her tribe. This makes her both a potential ally and a potential threat to the king.

 

Ali escaped assassination and is living quietly in an oasis in the desert with the people who rescued him. He has recovered from his physical injuries but is coming to terms with new powers he did not have before: the ability to find water and the ability to breathe underwater. This connection to water is extremely helpful to the desert tribe that saved him, but would be very challenging to the city where his father rules. He has reconciled himself to never returning home. Others, though, have made different plans for him.

 

And Dara. Dara was killed by Ali during their final battle in the first book. But djinn can be hard to kill permanently–after all, Dara had killed Ali first during that battle and Ali refused to stay dead. Dara is brought back to life to serve the Banu Nahida…but not Nahri. There is another Banu Nahida with a claim in Daevebad, and this one is no potential ally to the king.

 

Chakraborty’s novels are rich and deep and sweeping. She creates a beautifully layered Arabian world, one where the human world and the world of the djinn occasionally intersect but are typically separated, almost like an overlay on a map. Her characters are schemers and dreamers and scholars and warriors. Religion is both crucial and ignored, with some characters motivated by zealotry while others acknowledge divinity only for public show.

 

Although the books are set in the Islamic world of about 120 years ago, they are set in the djinn version of it with little (in this book virtually no) contact between the two. Only descendants of the magical tribes can enter this world. Some of these are partially human, but no fully human person can see or enter the world. This gives the author great freedom to imagine a world that is more like the world of Aladdin than the world of European colonialism. She uses that imaginative license fully, giving us extraordinary palaces built on the abject poverty and misery of slums. Poor and oppressed people living in squalor often face harsh punishments for the decisions of the rich, even decisions that are meant to help those poor and oppressed people. Powerful people enjoy the status quo and are committed to maintaining it at any cost.

 

Chakraborty is giving fantasy readers a rich and epic series. Although it is described as a trilogy, I would be sorry to see it end with the next book. I am developing one of those strange relationships with this series: I am excited for the next book to come out, but I am dreading it because it is supposed to be the last one of the series. Still, I am a richer person for having walked through the streets of Daevebad for however long the series lasts.

Book Review: The Kingdom of Copper, The Daevebad Trilogy, Book 2, S.A. Chakraborty

Book Review: The Mortal Word, Genevieve Cogman

Book Review: The Mortal Word, Genevieve Cogman

The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library Novel Book 5) by [Cogman, Genevieve]

Fantasy Series: The Mortal Word, Genevieve Cogman

 

The Invisible Library has become one of my favorite series, and a new book by Genevieve Cogman is a delight I look forward to enjoying as often as it comes. The Mortal Word, the fifth book in the series, is possibly my favorite one so far.

 

Irene has just returned to London and is visiting her friend, renowned detective Peregrine Vale, when another librarian summons her and Vale to investigate a murder. A secret peace conference is going on between mortal and historic enemies, the dragons and the fae, and the librarians are mediating the conference. However, the entire conference may fail now that one of the senior assistants to the dragons has been murdered. Is this an untimely random crime? Is a rogue outside element trying to disrupt the peace conference? Or is something darker at play?

 

Irene, Vale, and her former assistant Kai are caught up into the intrigue surrounding the conference. All the players have their own agendas, and being magical beings sometimes their agendas become reality by the strength of their desires. Add in the beauty of Paris, the chaos of some anarchists, a fae witch who likes to bathe in the blood of virgins, and a librarian with bold plans for a new library mission, and you have a whirlwind adventure that spins from attempted kidnapping to attempted murder to a final confrontation between the powers of order and the powers of chaos.

 

Irene is the powerful center of this story, as she is in all the novels of the series. In this book, though, she seems to be more comfortable with her own power. She recognizes that although the investigation is to be led by Vale, she must be the driving force behind it. She realizes that the fate of her parents and the library itself rely upon her judgment and actions. She handles herself with deportment when faced by the powers of dragons and fae. And she works to save the conference and the attendees even in the face of opposition from fellow librarians. In short, the heroine we’ve seen developing through books 1-4 is beginning to not only act like the kickass leader she is, she is beginning to believe in herself as well.

 

All in all, The Invisible Library series is getting better as it ages, and The Mortal Word takes the story and the characters in some very good directions. Irene gains confidence in herself, is acknowledged for her gifts and leadership by others, and Cogman succeeds in crafting another exciting story in a series filled with them.

The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library Novel Book 5) by [Cogman, Genevieve]

Book Review: The Mortal Word, Genevieve Cogman

 

Book Review: Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Fantasy: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

 

“My name is Sunny Nwazue and I confuse people.”

 

That may be one of the best lines I’ll ever read introducing a character. Sunny is many things. An American girl growing up in Nigeria, the daughter of two Igbo parents. An albino. And as she discovers early in the book, a Leopard Person–also known as a witch. Akata Witch is Sunny’s story, how she learned she had magical abilities, how she was embraced by a world she never knew existed, and how she found her place in that world with the help of some friends.

 

I am reminded of the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” when the Doctor tries to explain that they have entered a place that is not in their universe but it is like a soap bubble on the edge of a larger bubble except it is nothing like that but if it helps you to think of it like that then it is exactly like that.

 

My fear in writing my introduction is that it may sound like Akata Witch is similar to another series of books about a young magic worker who did not know about his abilities and was embraced by a world he never knew about and how he found his place in that world with the help of some friends. I suppose if HP were an albino American-Igbo girl who continued to attend school with ordinary students then it would be exactly like that…which is to say that it is extremely unfair to compare the two and I really don’t want to do that. Nnedi Okorafor has made some magic with Akata Witch, and it stands on its own quite well. She has won the Locus, Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards for her fiction, and the sequel to this novel won this year’s award for Best Young Adult Book which was presented at the Hugo ceremony.

 

Akata Witch could not have been written by someone unfamiliar with Nigeria. Whether the descriptions are of the feel of the air on skin, the sound of insects, the taste of the food, the smell of dust and smoke, Okorafor engages all of the reader’s senses in her book. Sunny’s albino skin is described by her school bullies as being the color of sour milk. The book simply delights on multiple levels.

 

Okorafor is one of the leading voices of Africanfuturism, a growing genre of stories that features African voices telling African stories set in the future. This genre is long overdue. Africa gave birth to us all, and now is giving birth to some exciting literature that demands attention. Okorafor has a voice that is both African and American, born in Cincinnati and teaching in Chicago, but spending a lot of time in Nigeria as well. The blend of cultures, mixed with her intelligence and experience and scholarship, helps her create unique books which put extraordinary characters into extravagantly described worlds.

 

Akata Witch features a young woman finding herself. African and American, “black” and albino, magical but living in an ordinary home and attending an ordinary school, Sunny Nwazue is a special protagonist. I loved this book, and I am excited to read the sequel.

Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Akata WitchNnedi Okorafor

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Fantasy: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Zelie’s mother was killed because she had magic. Many people were killed during The Raid, when magic disappeared from the world and those who once had used it were targeted by the king. Since that fateful night all those years ago, the magic was gone. Zelie had the white hair that indicated magical potential, but no magic could be found in the world. Then, a princess touches her with a mysterious scroll, and Zelie begins to find the power in herself that her mother once employed. The magic may be gone from Zelie’s world, but that is only because Tomi Adeyemi has put it into her amazing novel Children of Blood and Bone and has thus brought it into ours.

 

It’s easy sometimes to reduce stories to tropes. Hero’s journey? Check. Love story? Check. Misunderstood princess? Check. Young and untrained people discovering how to use magic? Check. And, sure, fine, those familiar themes are present in this novel. What sets a novel apart, though, is when it makes familiar ground new and exciting and different.

 

Here again, the easy and cheap thing to do is grab the obvious differences: Africa, not Europe or America. But this book is not different only because it is set in a part of the world that is underrepresented in published fantasy literature. This book is different because it is really, really good. The world building is amazing. The characters are real and flawed and heroic and common and everything you want in a character. Some of the scenes take your breath away. There is magic in this book, and it is not from the spells or the mystical powers or the artifacts. The magic is in the writing and the creativity and the depth of the story. The bookChildren of Blood and Bone may hide on the YA shelves of your local library, but it is a very mature story that should appeal to all ages. I could not put it down.

 

Two of the three main characters are female, but this is not a “girl’s” book (or a “boy’s” book–if there are such things). This is a good book. Will girls and women be thrilled to see the heroics come from a “her”? I hope so, but boys (and men) will also love to see the strength of these characters. As a reader, I also loved watching the growth and change in the characters through the course of the book. None of the three main characters is perfect, all are flawed, and all of them are different by the end than they were in the beginning. And although the next novel is perfectly set up, I have no idea what direction the characters will take in the next part of the story. I just know I am very eager to find out.

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Children of Blood and BoneTomi Adeyemi

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Sparrow Hill RoadBook 1 Ghost Roads Series, Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Fantasy Short Story Collection: Sparrow Hill RoadBook 1 Ghost Roads Series, Seanan McGuire

Rose Marshall wants to avoid being killed. Again. She was killed once already, in 1952, run off of Sparrow Hill Road in Michigan, and since has wandered the roads as a “hitcher,” a ghost who hitchhikes along the roads trying to save people. But the man who killed her, Bobby Cross, wants her soul, and he is still chasing her. Dying once stunk, but being killed again would really ruin her day.

 

Rose is known by many names. The “girl in the diner.” “The girl in the green dress.” “The phantom prom date.” And there are many legends surrounding her. It is said that she saves drivers by leading them to avoid accidents. It is said that she kills drivers by leading them to accidents. Rescuer? Harbinger of doom? Killer? Give a ghost a break!

 

The rules of the road for hitchers are important. If a hitcher is given a coat, jacket, or some other outerwear, she can regain corporeal form until midnight that day. If food or drink is given to the hitcher, she can enjoy it. Rose is particularly fond of cheeseburgers and malted milkshakes. However, if the road compels her to go somewhere to try to help someone, she must obey. Sometimes she is able to save them–help them avoid an accident, send them along a different route, distract them until the danger has passed. Sometimes she is able to save their spirits, guiding them to their final destination, helping them avoid Bobby Cross and other dangers in the spirit world. The rumors of her harming people are untrue, but she does have the habit of being there at the end for a lot of people. That’s one way rumors can start.

 

Seanan McGuire books are very personal to me. She, along with a few other authors, wrote some wonderful books that meant a lot to me in a very difficult time. Although Sparrow Hill Road is from 2014, it is new to me…and yet in many ways it is not new. It is vintage McGuire. Humor and horror mixed together. Wry, ironic, dry, yet with compassion and tenderness. McGuire loves her characters, even when she kills them. She even loves the dead ones. McGuire can make you laugh while you still have tears in your eyes from the previous paragraph. Her writing is fun and funny. And sometimes furious. And sometimes shocking. And always, always, delightful.

 

Sparrow Hill Road is more a series of connected short stories than a novel with a single overarching plot. It jumps back and forth in time, telling stories of Rose’s dealings with humans in the daylight and with spirits in the twilight. We read of Rose’s last days alive, how she meets friends Tommy and Emma, various battles with Bobby Cross, and the fates of her niece and her boyfriend (the boy who was supposed to take her to prom on the night she died). These stories are not in chronological order; ghosts don’t quite do linear time the way the living do.

 

Sparrow Hill Road is set along the American highway system, which may make it exotic to readers from other countries–and makes it a quintessentially American ghost story to those of us who grew up taking our family vacations and conducting business by way of these routes connecting the continent. Although we seldom see hitchhikers on those highways today, it is fun to think that some of them may be looking for a ride, a jacket, and a burger. That is NOT a recommendation to pick one up, though. Unless she is wearing a green prom dress from the 1950s, it is not worth taking that chance.

Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Midnight RiotRivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitvh

Urban Fantasy: Midnight RiotRivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Sometimes we get asked, “How do you pick the books to read/review?” A lot of times it is from other readers and reviewers. Often it is books nominated for different awards. If we like one book by an author, we will seek out others by that same writer. A couple have been from requests by the author herself, or meeting the author at an event. We try to have a strong local angle: local authors and authors coming to local events deserve as much of our support as we can provide. Sometimes, though, it’s as simple as our son coming up to us, shoving a book into our hands, and saying, “You will like this. Read it!” This is how we encountered the gem Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch. If you like urban fantasy with a strong dose of humor and sarcasm, especially with a British touch, then I would love to do the same thing to you: take the book, shove it into your hands, and say, “read this!”

 

Midnight Riot has been described as Harry Potter grows up and joins the fuzz. Not quite sure that captures the book, but it’s not bad. Peter Grant is a beat cop ready to move forward with his career. His hopes for something exciting are dashed, though, when he is assigned to the most boring, dead end position available to cops. Basically, it’s where cops are put so they can’t mess things up for themselves or other cops. Before he starts this new beat, though, he interviews a witness to a strange murder.

 

The witness is a ghost.

 

Not many people can see ghosts, let alone interview them. Not many of those people are cops. This brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who is in charge of a very small unit within the Metropolitan Police Department (better known to Americans as “Scotland Yard”). Actually, the unit has only one human in it, until Nightingale reroutes Grant’s career and makes it a two human department. Nightingale’s department is charged with making sure the paranormal keep the queen’s peace. Sometimes that means brokering a peace deal between the king and queen of the Thames and their offspring. Sometimes that means taking violent action with permanent effect against a pair of vampires who have taken up residence in a house. And sometimes it means chasing down a revenant–a ghost–who has started a new afterlife career as a serial killer.

 

Peter Grant is a delightful protagonist. He is mixed race, with a scientific mind but easily distracted, eager to find the intersection between science and the supernatural. He is an eager apprentice to Nightingale, learning magic and the paranormal denizens of London as he works to solve the mystery behind the one-spirit crime wave haunting his city.

 

Aaronovitch shows us a gritty and dark London that lives parallel to the city experienced by most people. It is a London with vampires and water spirits, evil ghosts and a dedicated few humans who can see the larger world hidden behind the facade of normalcy. From Midnight Riot he has gone on to write several more (and continues to add to the adventures of Peter Grant). I am looking forward to reading those ongoing adventures–assuming my son allows me to borrow the books once he is done with them.

Midnight Riot, Ben Aaronovitvh

Book Review: Midnight RiotRivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Book Review: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Fantasy: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Apollo West grew up in New York City wondering why his father had left him and his mother. He vowed that he would be the kind of father who would never leave his child alone. When he met Emma, it seemed perfect. Apollo was a rare book dealer, Emma was a librarian. They fell in love, and baby Brian came along. Everything seemed to be perfect…until Emma started getting texts that erased themselves. Pictures of Brian, taken from some stranger’s camera. Apollo began to worry: his amazing wife seemed to be losing her mind. Soon, she began claiming that the baby in their house was not actually Brian but was someone–something–else. And then one night, everything changed. The Changeling is a beautiful book that sucks you in and grabs hold of you with both hands.

 

Victor LaValle creates two amazing characters in Apollo and Emma. Apollo is a devoted father and husband, committed to his baby and his wife. Despite not having a male role model, he tries very hard to be the kind of father that his son would look up to and to be the kind of husband that his wife deserves. Emma is a bibliophile, committed to libraries because her childhood librarian was committed to her. She loves children, especially her baby, and she loves her husband. But when she starts seeing things that no one else can see, it marks the beginning of the end. She cannot love this thing that has replaced her baby. Or has it? Apollo just sees their baby, Brian. Has Emma gone crazy, or is she the only one who is sane?

 

The Changeling starts firmly in the real world. Set in New York City, other than the title and the location on the “Best Fantasy Novel of the Year” lists, there is nothing in the early part of the book to indicate it is anything other than a story of a family falling apart. As the book progresses, though, we see that the “normal” part of New York City is a patina disguising a much darker fantastic reality. Apollo begins to realize that nothing is quite what it seems. Witches and darker beings share the city with regular people, and the tragedy that destroyed his family is not unique. It is not even particularly unusual.

 

LaValle’s characters confront a number of challenges, and not all of them are of the supernatural kind. Apollo West is a young black man in a field dominated by older white men. Racism is a daily reality in his life. Later in the book he is confronted by police for walking through a white neighborhood. They were called because he did not look like he belonged there. Apollo and Emma are not poor, but money is a constant struggle. Apollo’s best friend suffers from PTSD after military service. Apollo wrestles with nightmares about his missing father and tries hard, maybe too hard, to live up to his ideal standard of fatherhood. Some of the greatest challenges faced by the characters in The Changeling come from living regular lives in New York City and not just from supernatural forces that they cannot control.

 

The Changeling won the World Fantasy Best Novel Award, along with several other awards and “best of the year” selections. Victor LaValle has spun a story that shows the dangers of a real world can be intimidating, the dangers of a supernatural world can be overwhelming, but the power of love can overcome almost anything.

The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Book Review: The Changeling, Victor LaValle

Book Review: Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn

Book 3 of the Heroine Complex series

 

Bea Tanaka is not just the little sister of superheroine Evie Tanaka. She has super powers of her own: the ability to project emotions onto others and the ability to channel intense anger into a “sonic scream” (or “canary cry,” depending on your taste in comics) which can totally destroy most demon-possessed objects that are attacking. So it’s way past time for Aveda Jupiter and Evie to promote her to full-fledged superheroine and stop treating her like a child. In fact, she has put together a posterboard presentation to convince them of this very thing. To make the point even more compelling, she has used glitter. Lots. Of. Glitter. She even has her own superheroine costume, complete with cape. They totally have to promote her!

 

Heroine’s Journey is the third book of the Heroine Complex series. Like the first two, it is smart, breezy, and snarky. Told in the first person, this time by the aforementioned Bea Tanaka, it follows the ongoing story of our Asian-American superheroines as they protect San Francisco from the threats posed by demons crossing over through portals from another dimension. Bea is now 22, working part-time at a bookstore and hanging out with best friends Leah and Sam. She still lives at the house which serves as HQ for the superheroines Aveda and Evie, but tensions are high between the sisters. Bea knows she is ready to step up. Evie is not so sure. Then, on the same day, two things happen. Demons attack, and Bea is able to step in and make a difference.

 

And, Evie and Bea’s dad returns after 10 years away with virtually no contact.

 

Kuhn really does an amazing job of balancing humor and pathos. Bea’s feelings for her father and her late mother are powerful. Her longing and sorrow drive the character to make some questionable decisions, including hurting people who love her. But Kuhn also shows Bea is usually self-aware, knowing that she is making poor decisions and (usually) able to pull herself back from the brink. She is passionate and proud and simultaneously vulnerable and scared.

 

The characters are the reason to read these books. The plots are cute and funny: demonically possessed rocks and spider-rides from carnivals and killer pens attacking and porcelain unicorns coming to life. (Can anything really surpass the killer demon-possessed cupcakes from the first book in the series? That may be unbeatable.) But Kuhn’s magic is in her characters. I literally cried during one scene near the end when Bea and Evie are having a heart-to-heart. Kuhn writes characters that are truly super. Not just in their fantastic abilities: telekinesis, fire, hair-tentacles, empathic projection, etc. They are super in their feelings, their relationships, their passion, their sexuality, their friendships.

 

Balancing feelings for sisters and lovers and friends and mothers and fathers and enemies is hard in real life. It is seldom done effectively in literature. Kuhn’s characters are transcendent in the power of their emotions. Kuhn is not afraid of conflict or lust or even confusion. Emotions don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to follow a logical progression. Humans, especially those in their early 20s, are allowed to have strong and confusing and sometimes paradoxical reactions to other people. They can and do make mistakes and hurt people and manage to apologize and change and heal those wounds. Seeing it happen on the page makes you really care about these characters.

 

If the Heroine Complex stories are finished, then Heroine’s Journey is an outstanding conclusion. It did not feel like a conclusion, though, and I hope it is not. I feel like there are more stories from these characters, and Sarah Kuhn is the perfect storyteller for them. Read them for the fun, read them for the feels, but read them knowing that in the end you will care more than you thought you would going in.

 

See our reviews of the other stories in this trilogy, Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship.

Heroine’s Journey, Sarah Kuhn

Book Review: Heroine’s JourneySarah Kuhn