Touted as “Pacific Rim meets Avengers with a Sailor Moon cast,” Sarah Raughley’s Fate of Flames was simply irresistible to this geek girl. Having read it, the book felt more like Captain Planet meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that just be my age talking. The Effigies are a group of four girls, each with the power to control an element (earth, air, water, fire), who are tasked to protect the world from Phantoms. When one girl dies, another is chosen to take her place. Fate of Flames is the story of one such girl, Maia, a lifelong Effigy fangirl who is chosen to become the next Fire Effigy. Not only does she have to live up to the legacy of her legendary predecessor Natalya, whose fourteen years as Effigy is double the expected lifespan, but Maia also has to deal with having power over an element that took the lives of her parents and twin sister June. Added to that are the other three Effigies who can’t stand each other, and the Sect, an agency that manages the Effigies and may have a hidden agenda.
Fate of Flames is an entertaining fantasy adventure that feels very much like the first book of a series. It does a good job in creating its main characters, the four Effigies, as vulnerable superheroes. I like that Raughley makes them all celebrities, and highlights the challenges of living as a superhero under the spotlight. Early on, Maia is afraid of coming out as the new Effigy because she knows people will expect her to save them, whether or not she is ready to do so. The Air Effigy, Lake, is an especially interesting character in this regard, as a singer-supermodel by day. Many people (including Maia before she was chosen) criticize her online for her lack of commitment to being an Effigy, while many other people (her “Swans”) defend her actions and argue for some compassion. This mix of censure and defense is such a true representation of how I can imagine being a public superhero will be in the Twitter age that I can actually imagine Lake in our real world today.
I also like how Raughley makes each of the Effigies vulnerably human. Lake’s perceived lack of commitment to being an Effigy is rooted in her fear of the role. The Water Effigy, Belle, who is perceived by most as the most badass heroine in the group, doesn’t see herself as a hero, and instead is all too aware of the tragic fate that awaits all Effigies. And my personal favourite, Chae Rin the Earth Effigy, is like the Raphael (from Ninja Turtles) of the group, tough and with a violent temper. But her work as an Effigy has distanced her from her family, and a scene at a Montreal circus hints at how much she is affected by this distance. I love this, because in some ways, the Effigies are all badasses who can create fault lines in the ground or create a big enough wind gust to keep a train from falling. But these little notes remind us that they’re all teenage girls, who are trying to work out what being an Effigy means for their real lives.
With this being the first book in a series, Raughley is very clearly trying to build a mythology and to craft a world that will give rise to a much longer story arc. The good news is that there’s a lot of richness to be mined in future books. Unfortunately, somewhat similar to the movie adaptation of Cassie Clare’s Mortal Instruments, there are a lot of elements that end up being juggled and some of it ends up feeling muddled. For example, when one of the characters says that the villain’s actions are unlike anything that the Effigies have ever faced before, the drama of this moment is undercut by the fact that I’m still unclear on what it is that Effigies usually face, so I just have to accept the character’s word that this is momentous and unusual.
In another example, an early scene shows a single Effigy fighting a Phantom, which made me wonder where the other Effigies were. It isn’t until much later that we learn that with a notable exception decades ago, Effigies don’t usually work as a team, but then pretty soon after, we also learn that Maia’s generation of Effigies will be working together and that this makes them unusual. Again, having assumed throughout that Effigies usually fought as a team, I was pretty meh over Maia’s batch uniting as a team. Raughley seems to assume that we know as much about Effigies as Maia does, and while I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted a full chapter detailing the history, a little more background on Effigies up front would have helped.
One particularly frustrating logical hole is a revelation about the villain, which calls into question one of the basic tenets about Effigies. It was presented for dramatic effect and the characters do react with surprise, but none of them appears bothered by a logical inconsistency with the Effigy mythology, and it just irritated me for the rest of the story.
All that being said, Fate of Flames was an entertaining read that sets up some interesting threads to be picked up in future books. There is lots more to be revealed about the Effigies and the Phantoms in the next book, which should be interesting to learn about. I’d especially love to learn more about Rhys, the cute, dorky agent who clearly has a secret but whom I hope turns out to be a good guy.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.