The figure of the reluctant hero is anything but new in fiction, but sci-fi/fantasy author Sarah Raughley freshens up the trope with the element of celebrity culture and an appealing ensemble cast.
The story revolves around the Effigies – four girls, each with the ability to control an elemental power and use it to defend the world against monstrous beasts called Phantoms. When one Effigy dies, her power magically passes on to a new “vessel.”
Sixteen-year-old Maia has always been an Effigy fangirl, but never expected to become one. Then the Fire Effigy dies and Maia inherits her power, instantly becoming both a celebrity and a hero. It’s a lot to handle, especially when a new threat emerges: a man calling himself Saul is menacing the public, controlling Phantoms using the kind of power that was supposed to be the exclusive province of the Effigies. It’s up to the girls to fight him, but years of harsh public scrutiny have left them fractured. Maia must put aside her fear in order to unite the Effigies, get to the bottom of Saul’s strange power, and save the world.
Maia has a tendency to plunge into situations head first, and this suits the tone and pacing of the story, which bounces gamely from fight to fight, full of teen angst and enthusiasm. The story feels like Sailor Moon by way of the Mortal Instruments. It’s fun, but it doesn’t shy away from showing the trauma caused by the pressure of being a hero and the difficulty of being a public figure. Maia and the other girls are relatable – badass, funny, and flawed.
Certain elements of the book are less successful. Romantic tension never feels genuine or pays off, and the Phantoms are a little too unoriginal to be truly terrifying. More intriguing is the element of reincarnation, and the image of the Effigies as matryoshka dolls with the spirits of the girls who preceded them tucked deeper and deeper inside. It will be well worth reading the sequel to see if the story delivers on the promise of this first instalment.