published in 2014
Whether or not you’ll like Hero Complex can probably be determined by whether not the following passage intrigues or annoys you:
Ryder leaps onto the wall of an apartment building and runs straight up the side. She’s almost to the eaves when she jumps again, this time somersaulting high into the air, coming to apogee several yards above the monster. She flings her arms apart and the night is illuminated by stroboscopic beams from her—I’m not seeing that right. There’s no way she’s shooting lasers from her boobs.
“Of course not. That would be ridiculous,” Jensen says.
I thought as much, but given how many ridiculous things have occurred lately, I wanted to be sure.
Ryder snags a tree branch with an outstretched hand like it’s a trapeze and flips herself around.
“Everyone knows laser beams are invisible in clear air. Those are charged particle cannons,” Jensen says.
Needless to say I did find it intriguing and wanted to subscribe to its newsletter. Sean O’Hara is somebody I know from having hung around the same online spaces for years, which always helps when deciding whether or not to try a book.
As you might have guessed from the extract, Hero Complex isn’t an entirely serious novel, though there is a harder edge to it than is at first apparant. As such it reminded me of Seanan McGuire’s Velveteen series, which started out as lighthearted superhero fanfic but got dark quickly. The same is the case here. The protagonist, behind his first person smartarse persona, is suffering from an unhealed trauma, hiding a dark secret, something that will drive his actions through the story.
But it takes a while for that trauma to surface and at first Hero Complex looks like an affectionate parody of what you might call a harem anime, where you have the high school hero getting involved with a group of Strange Girls Who Are More Than They Seem. That’s what seems to happen to Erik when he’s recruited (or rather, pressganged) for his school’s drama club, after an unfortunate accident involving all its male members leaving.
Cue a bit of sexual tension between him and Jensen, the resident hardcase of the group, who makes it clear she doesn’t like him (nor he she), which, as any fule kno, is a sure sign of mutual sexual attraction, something that doesn’t go uncommented on by the other girls. That knowing commentary and genre savvy displayed by many of the characters, helps reinforce the fanfic feeling of the story, again like McGuire’s Velveteen.
It doesn’t take long for the plot to grow darker, as it turns out the drama club has a more important mission than amateur theatre and somebody isn’t happy Erik joined up with them. Before long he’s involved in running battles with this unknown enemy, which turns out also to mostly consist of high school girls. What in fact turns out to be the case is that both groups come from a fantasy world not unlike Zelazny’s Amber, a world with a higher order of reality and are waging their civil war on Earth. Like Amber, our world is a mere shadow of theirs.
Where it differs, and also where the story goes properly dark, is in how O’hara shows the consequences of these battles, showing how one battle completely destroys the all night restaurant Erik used to hang out at, killing everybody inside. Reality can reset itselfs once such a magical battle has ended, but it’s clear that this restoration isn’t complete. The people murdered may live again, but they’re not quite the same.
Hero Complex is the first in the My Dark and Fearsome Queen series; I’m not sure I’d want to read the next volume right now. Enjoyable as this was it was also somewhat uneven, with the mood swings between light and serious giving me a bit of whiplash. I’m not sure Erik’s tragic background works all that well with the rest of the story O’Hara wants to tell: it’s slightly too real for a story of school girl warbots armed with laser tits. Another small annoyance is that Erik’s dialogue wasn’t put in quote marks, which took some getting used to. Nevertheless, a good debut.