Fate of Flames certainly has its share of action and fun characters, but it essentially strives to be an entertaining read and nothing else. That can be either a positive or a negative, depending on whether you like your novels to carry a little more proverbial meat on their bones or you just want something with which to pass the time. Either preference is fine, but, for me, I would have liked to have seen this novel break out of its YA trope shell. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.
In short, Fate of Flames plunges readers head-first into a modern world plagued by dark, massive beings called Phantoms (and, no, we’re never really told where they came from, much to the story’s detriment). Most major cities are outfitted with beacons to keep these creatures away, but unfortunately this system has failed one too many times and now the world is under constant threat.
And that’s the basis for the plot: four women, known as Effigies, with the ability to harness the four elements (air, earth, water, and fire) are relied upon to save the day. However, rather than live in secrecy, Effigies are global superstars who are loved, adored, and even idolized by legions of fans. The downside is that Effigies exist for only a short period of time before they expire. Likewise, when one Effigy dies, her abilities and memories are somehow passed on to another candidate (and, again, the novel never really explains how or why this happens). This is where Maia comes in: she’s a typical teenage girl who, lo and behold, learns that she is the next fire Effigy.
Please excuse my sarcasm because I don’t mean to cast ill-will upon this novel as it’s not bad enough to deserve a good roasting. However, while there were elements (no pun intended) that I liked, so much of it feels recycled from other stories, comics, graphic novels, movies, and TV shows. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes the comparisons were a little too obvious. Off the top of my head, there’s no question that Fate of Flames was inspired by old school Japanese monster films (a la Godzilla), Pacific Rim, X-Men, The Avengers, Captain Planet, The Wicked + the Divine, and even Sailor Moon along with the usual YA cliches, tropes, and stereotypes. Hence, it feels more like a mashup than an homage.
Speaking of stereotypes, this novel is so littered with them that the only thing memorable about the characters after a while are their one-sided traits: the unflappable ice queen, the smart-mouthed rebel chick, the bad boy with a mysterious past, the super-special snowflake, the drama queen, etc. While I believe it’s okay to use stereotyped characters, there has to be something flipped or altered about the stereotype so it feels like it’s being given a twist for the sake of subtle commentary or originality. Instead, Fate of Flames doesn’t flesh its characters out beyond their basic, core characteristics.
The four female leads have powers that harness each of the traditional four elements: Lake, the pop star, is the air Effigy; Chae Rin, the circus performer, is the earth Effigy; Belle, the fashion plate, is the water Effigy; and Maia, the quiet, low-key teenage girl, is the newly-christened fire Effigy. Granted, having characters utilize the four elements as powers is nothing new, but because it’s a fun concept, I kind of give it a pass. But these lead characters suffer from being stereotypes. For me, it would have been fun to see how each girl’s personality contributed to the element she controlled, such as making the fire Effigy hot-tempered; making the air Effigy a bit of an airhead; turning the earth Effigy into a grounded, rational person; or crafting the water Effigy to be a mercurial character. Probably none of these ideas are groundbreaking, but they still would have added a little more color to the four Effigy leads. Otherwise, they’re easy characters to read about, but they don’t exactly burst to life due to their stereotypical restraints.
This became my my biggest issue with this novel. As stated, sometimes tropes and cliches can be okay provided something unique to done to twist or subvert expectations, but Fate of Flames doesn’t even make an attempt to do this. Maia, especially, suffers from special snowflake syndrome and her development, especially as an Effigy, raised several questions with me. First, she has received no special training, something Effigies are required to do. Yet somehow she’s able to use her abilities and even summon her special Effigy weapon without ever having been shown. Why was this possible? What made her different? Sadly, the novel never tells us, so we’re left to accept Maia as simply another born-special-just-because-type of character.
Granted, I liked the fact that Effigies didn’t live in the shadows. They are front and center in their story’s world, so much so that they each have their own dedicated fan base. All of this kind of reminded me of the Black Widow novels by Margaret Stohl where non-superhero characters don t-shirts and host fan clubs for their favorite Avenger. It adds a level of realism that I like because if we had comic book superheroes exist in real life, I could easily envision people wanting to fangirl/fanboy over them.
However, in terms of writing and overall flow, the novel reads very much like the script to a superhero film, which isn’t necessarily bad provided you enjoy superhero movies. I’m not big into superhero comics, movies, TV shows or the like as they can turn formulaic, so I’m not a fan of the whole superhero fad. I don’t think it’s a bad fad – it’s just not my cup of tea. Thus, while I was willing to go along with Fate of Flames‘ save-the-world plot, it was nothing truly unique. If I can compare sentiments, I felt the same way about this novel as I did about The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. I didn’t hate those movies but I didn’t grasp why they were such massive hits. I enjoyed the characters but, plot-wise, it was nothing I hadn’t seen a dozen times before.
Such were my feelings towards Fate of Flames: the characters, despite being one-dimensional, were still fun to read about, but the principle plot and the action scenes could have easily been transplanted into any Marvel or DC film. Thus, I sense Fate of Flames will appeal strongly to a young audience who devours anything superhero-oriented. And for the rest of us who think it’s just okay or are borderline meh, I sense this novel won’t hold much appeal.
That being said, there were parts I enjoyed purely as entertainment. The action scenes are fun and well-written and, to the author’s credit, avoid becoming gory. However, my favorite moments were when Maia meets her fellow Effigies, most of whom aren’t exactly eager to accept her into their circle. There is some drama and history here that I won’t go into because they count as spoilers, but it definitely felt realistic. I’m glad Maia didn’t fit in from the start because that would have felt too dismissive. But I confess I had a hard time mentally picturing these ladies because I’m not sure how old they were supposed to be. Maia is a teenager, but as far as the rest of the Effigies are concerned, I wasn’t sure if they were teens, too, or young adults (early 20s). I might have missed some details here, but I can feel a sense of disconnect when I’m not able to mentally pin down the age of the main characters, especially as the Effigies (and most of the main characters) seem to talk to and relate to each other in juvenile ways sometimes. Likewise, most of the plot twists I could spot a mile away, especially the set up of the chief villain. And, of course, we have a love triangle (of sorts) that is even easier to spot.
If there was anything of substance that could be mined here, it would be that the novel makes some subtle commentary about how the public tends to project a certain image unto persons it considers to be celebrities. Some of the Effigies lap up the limelight while others have learned to merely cope with it. Maia is thrust headfirst into this world and, as expected, doesn’t know how to handle the attention or criticism, especially on social media forums. To her credit, she’s been an Effigy fangirl, so she knows the other side of the proverbial coin, but that still doesn’t prepare her for becoming an instant celebrity. In her mind, she would love to be just like these ladies, but when she finally gets the chance, she starts to see that the life of an Effigy isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Hence, there’s a lesson here, not only about being careful with what you wish for, but also about the dark side of fame.
As a whole, Fate of Flames was okay. It’s entertaining in spots but its plot waxes familiar with even more familiar character types. While it makes for a quick read, it doesn’t offer much in the realm of surprising plot developments or multi-faceted characters and relies too heavily upon the typical crutches of YA cliches.
Content-wise, there is some language, ranging from PG to PG-13, with a few sporadic f-words though they aren’t pervasive. Regarding violence, there are scenes of peril and action akin to a Marvel or DC movie; therefore, while there isn’t much (if any) blood or gore, there are intense fights with dangerous creatures known as Phantoms along with showdowns with the antagonist that sometimes put innocent people in harm’s way. Lastly, there is no sexual content (to the best of my memory) though some characters do make sporadic innuendos and there is obvious chemistry among some of the characters.
Overall, Fate of Flames seems tailor-made for a teen girl audience who loves all things superhero and the cliches that go along with that, from special powers, to big bads, to knock down/drag out fights with said big bads. While this novel offers a good deal of action, it provides little else in terms of a unique story, unique characters, or even unique takes on common YA tropes. In short, this is a fun read – nothing more, nothing else – and probably won’t wow readers who have an expansive bookshelf. It’s relatively harmless entertainment but still leaves a lot to be desired.