Sarah Kuhn’s 2020 Haunted Heroine is the fourth volume in her Heroine supernatural superhero series.
Pyrokinetic superhero Evie Tanaka already has enough on her plate, what with pregnancy, worries about motherhood, and problems with her hunky half-demon husband Nate.
But she adds more worrification when she returns to the site of a much regretted mistake.
On the last day of her grad student career, Evie inadvertently burned down Morgan College’s library. Luckily for Evie, the fire was blamed on old wiring. She has avoided the campus ever since, but has tried to assuage her guilt by donating money. Now Morgan College has a problem that Evie may be able to fix. She feels that she has an obligation to her old school … to help them deal with ghosts.
Morgan has always been known as haunted. Or known for credulous stories of hauntings. There was no agreement on the subject. Were students just amusing themselves with ghost stories? or was the women’s college a hotbed of paranormal activity? Now doubt has vanished. The ghosts have become hostile entities of undeniable reality.
Fearing the impact on the college’s donor cashflow, Provost Gloria Glennon recruits Evie and teammate Aveda Jupiter to investigate why the ghosts’ behavior has changed. As “Eliza Takahashi” and “Angelica Chin,” the pair will pretend to be teaching assistants. Overt inquiry might alarm students and donors. Evie and Aveda will conceal their true identities with magical glamour.
Complications ensue. Evie runs up against Richard, a professor with tenure. He’s a smug misogynist; complaints not involving white males are dismissed, and solutions not proposed by a white male are disdained. He also happens to be Evie’s ex. She has never had the courage to confront her emotionally and intellectually abusive ex; now she will have to work with him every day.
The worldbuilding in this series doesn’t make sense. The governments (state and federal) of the region south of Canada and north of Mexico seem perfectly happy to leave dealing with the after-effects of an attempted demonic invasion to well-intentioned free-agents. In fact, the revelation that there are Hell Dimensions interested in our realm seems to have had less social effect than I would have expected. If nothing else, I’d expect the Evangelicals to make a lot of noise about the fact that San Francisco is a gateway to Hell. Par for the course for superhero stories, I suppose.
You may also wonder “how can pyrokinesis (Evie)1 and telekinesis/martial arts (Jupiter) help solve a mystery?” At first, superhero skills aren’t needed. What’s required are intellect and perseverance, both of which Evie and Jupiter happen to have in spades. But it’s traditional for superhero stories to overlap with mysteries.
Solving the mystery requires a lot of legwork; our detective duo must track down the source of the demonic infestation that has sparked the latest ghost sightings. Evie and Jupiter have had way too much past experience dealing with such. That problem is handled. Dealing with Richard is another matter.
Just to underline how terrible Richard is: he sleeps with his students. He gets laid and also gets to prey upon young vulnerable women. He enjoys undermining their self-confidence (as he did to Evie).
I have no idea if the author was revisiting some personal experiences for source material: an abusive boyfriend, a college administration that prefers to hide any problems. Or perhaps not. I don’t know. If the author isusing past experience as plot fodder, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there is a grand tradition of writers doing just that: Sue Grafton is a famous example.All is grist for the writer’s mill. Plus holding up one’s past tormenters to judgment as villains or victims is a lot less messy than hitting them with a shovel and burying the body. The important thing is that Richard is an entirely plausible dick.
This was a decent installment in the series, building on previous episodes while being sufficiently standalone that readers new to the series can start here.
1: Pyrokinesis also doesn’t help with relationship problems. Odd to think there are problems that can’t be handled by setting them on fire, but there you go.