Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Book Review: Hurricane Heels by Isabel Yap

Pros: diverse and multi-layered characters, great world-building, excellent storytelling

Cons: minor confusion at times

Five thirteen year old girls are chosen by the goddess to help fight the Grey, an entity created from terror, rage, and destruction. Now 25, Alex, Ria, Aiko, and Natalie help Selena prepare for her upcoming wedding. As the big day approaches, they reflect on their past as magical girls and wonder how long they’ll have to keep fighting.

Hurricane Heels is a a collection of 5 interconnected stories. Each one is told from the point of view of a different girl. 

This is a novel for adults who love magical girl stories like Sailor Moon, who are interested in what real life for such girls growing into women would look like. The author clearly explains why no one in the larger world knows what’s going on in the fight between good and evil and how the girls heal after their battles. But these are women who swear, drink, go to a strip club (it’s a bachelorette party), and hold day jobs around their monster battles.

I loved the juxtaposition of these young girls getting magical powers and being given decidedly earthy weapons. When you think of magical girls you think glittery magic weapons, light weight, deadly because of their magical attacks. But these girls get an ax, a chainsaw, double swords. There’s no way to avoid the solid brutality of these as weapons and the death and gore of their battles against the Grey.

Each chapter begins with a black and white illustration of the girl whose point of view that chapter is from. Unlike the Sailor Moon characters, these aren’t thin waifs. They’ve got some weight on them and some curves. They look like real women, chosen to do great things.

At one point I tried to see what the main thrust of each story was - love, power, etc. Each character has a colour, a different piece of transformation jewelry, and a primary weapon, surely they each have an attribute they embody as well. A few of them seem to on the surface, but when you consider each character - and each story - more carefully, these aren’t simplistic portrayals. These are multi-layered characters who are scared of their new responsibilities and powers in different ways. They also try to hide their frailties from their friends, not realizing that they all have similar doubts. They fight because they need to, because the world needs them to. It’s amazing how well you get to know each girl, despite how short the book is.

I did find the scene in Ria’s story where she moved from the Philippines to the US a bit confusing. I had to read it twice to realize that’s what happened. There was also a formatting issue in the first story. In two places necessary page breaks, showing where one scene ended and another began, were missing. Because each story jumps between places and times so often, the page breaks are needed to help the reader reorient themselves. It was very confusing going from the end of a fight scene to the girls grabbing a drink with no indication that the location or time had changed. It was even more confusing jumping from a post fight conversation to a strip club scene. 

This is a brilliant book. If you like magical girl anime - and even if you just enjoy well told stories about women trying to find their places in the world while battling evil to save it - this book is for you.

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