I actually liked Fate of Flames, by Canadian author Sarah Raughley.  And I’ll definitely pick up the next book in the series.  But there are a couple of frustrating issues that bothered me.  Spoilers abound

First, a quick overview of the story.  Fate of Flams takes place in a world where there are always four girls, known as Effigies, tasked with defending humanity against monsters known as phantoms.  Each girl has power over one element, and when one dies, another takes her place. 

Our hero is Maia, who has just become the new Fire Effigy.  Though she has been one of the many fans of the famous Effigies, she is trying to keep her new powers a secret.  Unfortunately the mysterious organization known as The Sect, which coordinates the efforts against the phantoms, tracks her down and takes her away from her Uncle for training.

Now, why is she living with her Uncle?  That would be because her parents and sister died in a fire, which makes it rather difficult for Maia to deal with having power over that particular element.  Though Maia initially wants to keep in contact with the only family she has left, when she’s told that her Uncle has been ordered not to get in touch with her so she can focus on her training, she pretty much just accepts it.  It feels kind of like the author just wanted to move on from the Uncle as quickly as possible but Maia’s quick acceptance of being cut off from her surviving relative doesn’t help sell the emotion she feels about the loss of the rest of her family. 

While she forgets her actual family, Maia begins building new relationships with the other girls and a male Sect agent around their age.  She is surprised to find herself feeling more connected to the Effigies she never really liked, Chae Rin and Lake, as opposed Belle, the Effigy she had always idolized.  She also begins feeling romantic towards Rhys, the aforementioned Sect agent.

Anyway, the girls begin to realize that not everyone within The Sect can be trusted, and they have to rely on each other.  And at the climax of the novel, thanks to the ability of the Effigies to see the memories of the girls who came before them, Maia sees a memory that suggests that it was Rhys who killed Natalya, her predecessor as the Fire Effigy.  And she chooses to keep that from the other girls, because she knows better and decides that the memory is a lie.  So while the rest of the girls are accepting that they are in the fight together and must be able to trust each other, Maia decides to keep potentially life-threating information from the others.

A few things that you should know about Maia keeping this apparent memory a secret from the other girls.  First, the girls have discovered that Natalya was killed because she was coming close to uncovering secrets that some members of The Sect want to remain buried.  Second, Rhys has basically been raised to be completely loyal to the Sect, with his family long working for the organization.  Third, the girls are now actively pursuing the secrets that got Natalya killed.  And fourth, Rhys is right there with the girls, in perfect position to turn on them if they get too close to the truth.  But Maia doesn’t think the other girls should know that Rhys has been implicated in Natalya’s death?

As for the other girls, I have to say I feel like the story was all set-up for Ice Effigy Belle to be a villain.  Maia, in her previous life as an Effigy fangirl, completely idolized Belle while having little use for Chae-Rin and especially Lake, even leaving nasty online messages about Lake being a useless coward.  But she soon finds hidden depths to the two Effigies she disliked while Belle is, appropriately enough, an ice queen.  

It seemed like a very natural direction for the narrative to reveal that Maia’s hero would actually turn out to be the bad guy/girl of the piece.  And there are a couple of mentions in the book about other instances where apparent golden girl Effigies turned bad.  There was the racist Fire Effigy who used her power to burn black churches, and the Effigy who emerged as the hero of a massive battle, only for it to eventually be revealed that she had spent the event trying to save her own skin, even when it put others in danger.  Throw in the fact that I didn’t really care for Belle, and I was ready for her to turn to the dark side.  The breaking point for me came when the four girls were sent off to train together, and Belle didn’t even bother showing up for the session.  After that, I was done with her.

It should be noted that there are obvious reasons for Belle’s attitude.  She was very close with the deceased Effigy Natalya, and it also becomes clear that she was abused while growing up.  She ends the book by apologizing for her behaviour, so it’s definitely possible my impression of her will change in the sequel where she will presumably be more willing to work with the other girls.  But I personally didn’t really care for the broken bird Belle that emerged towards the end of the story, and found her more interesting as the ice queen who thought she was superior to the other girls.

I was also a bit unsure of what to make of the actual villain(s) of the story, mainly how and why Alice ended up in Nick’s head, but presumably there will be more information coming about that in the forthcoming books in the series.

All that said, I still really enjoyed Fate of Flames, and am looking forward to seeing more of Maia (including her being justly raked over the coals for keeping life and death secrets from the other girls), Chae Rin and Lake.

Published by Andrew Clendening