By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Sarah Kuhn
As a fight trainer/bodyguard to Aveda Jupiter and Evie Tanaka, the superheroines protecting San Francisco, Lucy Valdez is one of the toughest individuals in town without superpowers. But as tough as she may be, she still can’t confess her feelings to her longtime crush, Rose Rorick, head of the police department’s Demon Unit.
Lucy is also the undisputed karaoke queen at the local joint, The Gutter. So when a new karaoke star, Celine, shows up, Lucy’s confidence is a bit shaken. But then strange and seemingly supernatural happenings threaten Celine, as well as The Gutter itself. So all of a sudden, Lucy finds herself working alongside Rose as they investigate San Francisco’s newest demonic threat. She is forced to confront the threat, as well as her feelings for Rose.
“Unsung” is a novella in Kuhn’s Heroine Complex series, which features Asian American superheroines, though Lucy herself—a vital member of the Jupiter/Tanaka team in all three previous stories — is Puerto Rican, Mexican, and English. Kuhn finally gives us Lucy’s story as fans of the series will have seen her flirting and pining over Rose for years.
Lucy is a mix of tough and vulnerable. Despite not having superpowers, she can fight right alongside her superheroine friends, but is hesitant to show Rose her real self for fear of rejection. And while she may be a martial arts and weapons expert, she also loves vintage fashion. All of these facets form a complex, three-dimensional character, showing readers women and people of color can be more than one thing.
One of the things I really appreciated about “Unsung” was the fact that while Lucy and Celine were very competitive with each other on stage, they also supported each other. Kuhn left out the usual cattiness that can often show up when women are pitted against each other. This is such a common portrayal of women and it was refreshing to not find it in the story.
Not Your Backup
By C.B. Lee
Interlude Press, 2019
The Sidekick Squad is back and this time, it’s Emma Robledo’s story.
“Backup” picks up where the previous story left off, with the Resistance continuing their efforts to take down the corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. But Emma, a high school senior who has left school, thinks they’re not doing enough. As the unofficial leader of the fractured Resistance movement, everyone turns to her for the plans. However, she is the only one without superpowers. So when the adults show up to help the group of teens, Emma is taken out of the action and relegated to chores and busy work.
Needless to say, she’s not happy about it. But that doesn’t stop her from participating.
Throughout Lee’s Sidekick Squad series, we have followed various characters as they have uncovered the truth about how the government controls society’s superheroes as a way to distract citizens from the nefarious deeds taking place abroad. What I love about the series, and “Backup” is no exception, is how diverse the characters are—not just in terms of cultural background, but also in terms of LGBTQ+ representation. For example, Emma’s parents are a lesbian couple and Emma figures out that she identifies as asexual. And Lee does a great job of explaining the latter in a way that feels natural for the story. The characters’ sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions are just a part of who they are and it’s no big deal.
Emma’s story is my favorite in this series—she is a strong young woman who knows her own value, even if others don’t. While she initially allows others’ opinions about her to influence her, she eventually grows into her own and learns to take action. This is a great thing to see, especially in a book geared toward young adults.
The Fall of Io
By Wesley Chu
Angry Robot, 2019
When Ella Patel’s mind was invaded by Io, a Quasing alien, she was pulled into the ongoing war between the Prophus and Genjix. These are the two factions of an ancient alien race that have been using humans as hosts in order to accomplish what they want. The former is the peace-loving, but under-represented faction, while the latter is the savage and more powerful faction.
The Prophus were determined to train Ella as an agent, but were unsuccessful. Expelled from the academy, Ella is back to her former life of con artistry and bank robberies. But now both sides are looking for her as the Genjix’s plans to contact their home world is reaching a critical stage and threatening life on Earth.
“Fall” takes place in the same universe as Chu’s Tao series, of which I have only read one book. This being said, I recognized Chu’s ability to balance the occupying Quasing’s personal mission with the relationship they share with their human host. The result is an unlikely, dysfunctional but functioning relationship between Ella and Io that is fun to read.
There is a lot going on in “Fall” and the story jumps from one character’s point of view to the next. While this may make it difficult to keep track of what is happening, Chu does a great job of reminding readers who these people are and their roles in the overall plot. He also ties things together nicely so readers can see how each character and plot point connects with the rest.
When I started “Fall,” I hadn’t realized it is actually the second book in Chu’s Io series. There are references to what happened in the previous book, but not so much that I felt like I missed some major plot points. If anything, it made me want to go back and find the first in the series. So you can probably look out for my thoughts on that book in a future column.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.