ARC Review: Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: Fate of Flames
author: Sarah Raughley
pages: 368
format: Paperback
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4.5/5 (from hated to loved) or 7.5/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Sailor Moon, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, and other fun, action-packed light science-fiction.
Years ago, everything changed. Phantoms, massive beasts of nightmare, began terrorizing the world. At the same time four girls, the Effigies, appeared, each with the unique power to control a classical element. Since then, they have protected the world from the Phantoms. At the death of one Effigy, another is chosen, pulled from her normal life into the never-ending battle.

When Maia unexpectedly becomes the next Fire Effigy, she resists her new calling. A quiet girl with few friends and almost no family, she was much happier to admire the Effigies from afar. Never did she imagine having to master her ability to control fire, to protect innocent citizens from the Phantoms, or to try bringing together the other three Effigies.

But with the arrival of the mysterious Saul—a man who seems to be able to control the Phantoms using the same cosmic power previously only granted to four girls at a time—Maia and the other Effigies must learn to work together in a world where their celebrity is more important than their heroism.

But the secrets Saul has, and the power he possesses, might be more than even they can handle…

in depth

  • I can't believe more people aren't raving about Fate of Flames.  It's like the most exciting video game you've ever played, in book form, centered around four badass ladies.  The cast is ethnically diverse, the writing is punchy and clear, and there are giant shadowy sky monsters.  The alternate Earth setting adds a clever twist to the urban fantasy environment.  Maia's Earth is our Earth, but our Earth if it had suddenly been invaded by deadly sky monsters in the 1800s.  So there are chat rooms and forums and video games, but there are also Anti Phantom Devices.  Seattle was the site of a Phantom massacre.  WWII was Phantom centered.  Raughley cheekily plays around with history and media to suit her alternate timeline.  If that doesn't scream "fun," then I'm not sure what more you need.  Dancing monkeys?* (*there are no dancing monkeys) 

  • Part of what makes Fate of Flames thrilling is the clever play on the old chosen ones trope.  The Effigies are chosen by fate, imbued with elemental powers and super-healing abilities, but that's where destiny ends and humanity begins.  They're called to the fight when the last Effigy dies and their dangerous job makes for short lives, resulting in newly minted Effigies as young as 11 who are suddenly world-famous superstars under the thumb of an international organization, sent into battle after bloody battle.  There is even a fansite dedicated to the Effigies.  Yes, people tweet and fangirl over their favorite Effigies, and Maia herself was a dedicated Belle fan before becoming an Effigy herself.  

  • The plot is fairly breakneck, almost too fast at times, with Maia being thrust right away into a series of missions, battles, and encounters with a deliciously eerie baddie.  He's called Saul, he can control the Phantoms, and his past is full of secrets that connected in surprising ways to Maia's dead predecessor.  Though there were clunky parts of the plot, scenes and plot points that seemed contrived or extraneous, the fast pace and imaginative worldbuilding kept me interested.  The battle scenes could have been ripped from a summer blockbuster; Raughley's language made them pop from the page, so you could feel the clash of metal on bone, the zap of electric weapons, the earthquake of blasted pavement.  There was a lovely visceral quality about her action scenes. 

  • The characters were a little flatter than I'd hoped, in the way of video game characters.  You get backstory and action, but I didn't always have a clear sense of them as rich, complex humans.  Maia was the best developed.  Her voice was so authentically teenaged, her motivations clear and complicated.  I wanted to flick her nose a few times for being judgmental, but I also rooted for her good nature and curiosity from the start.  The other three Effigies and agent Rhys are a little more skeletal.  They feel like people, but ones I haven't fully come to know yet.  I hope to get a better sense of them in the sequels.  I was actually reminded greatly of the flair and characters of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, which I loved, so the thinness wasn't a huge detriment. 

  • While it's a fun and punchy book, there's also a striking depth to the themes.  Raughley spends a fair amount of ink exploring the problems that come with being chosen and famous when it wasn't your choice, and her story is richer for it.   Maia learns that being an Effigy isn't glamorous, and the girls she judged for their tabloid antics are real people thrust into a real, desperate situation out of their control.  The aspect of celebrity, its pitfalls and its false glamour, plays a major role in Maia's character development, from starstruck chipper heroine to truly self-chosen warrior who sees the darkness beyond the glamour, the people beyond the prophecy.  

  •  Overall, it's not the strongest book I've ever read.  There were substantial areas of the plot that were contrived or confusing, and some of the characters felt thin.  That said, sometimes atmosphere trumps mechanics, and Raughley's book has a feel to it that draws you in.  It's a vivid, action-packed, stupendously fun novel that came to me just as I was needing an escape.  I think the Sailor Moon and Pacific Rim comparisons are spot on.  I hope to see Raughley grow in her command of her plot and world in the sequels, because I think there are some truly unique elements in her world that demand to be showcased.  I really enjoyed the thrill ride of this novel, and I'm eager for Maia's next adventure. 

        in a sentence

        Fate of Flames is an action-packed, video game-esque thrill ride with a diverse cast and vibrant world.  


        will i read this author again?  Yes!  
        will i continue the series?  I'd read the sequel yesterday if I could get my hands on it.  

        Note: I received this copy from a friend to read. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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