2016’s Fate of Flames is the first volume in Sarah Raughley’s Effigies series.
Maia is an Effigy, imbued with powers beyond mortal ken. On the plus side, awesome powers yay. On the minus side, Maia only gained her new fire-based powers because the previous fire Effigy, Natalya, died. The lifespan of an Effigy is measured in years … if they are lucky.
Maia can expect to spend the rest of her short life fighting monsters.
The Phantoms (origin and purposes unknown) are deadly to anyone unprotected by barriers or repellants. They can even kill the Effigies fighting them (albeit with difficulty). Usually, the four Effigies (air, water, fire, and earth) win. But only usually. And there are only four Effigies at any one time and there are many Phantoms.
Maia believes that her predecessor as fire Effigy, Natalya, must have died in combat. But Maia soon hears disturbing rumours. Natalya, the whispers say, killed herself.
Well, no. But the truth is worse. Maia finds that she has a stalker, a stalker with powers, a stalker who killed Natalya. The stalker will kill her if she doesn’t reveal … something the stalker thinks she knows. What that is, she has no idea.
I don’t know if it helps or makes things much worse that the Effigies have the same deal as the demons in the Penric series and the Diadem in the Diadem series; the new Effigies don’t just take up their destined roles, they also inherit the memories of all their predecessors. In one sense, they never die. In another sense, even the grave offers no escape1.
This book shares a world-building oddity with too much other superhero fiction. Pop culture hasn’t changed. You’d think that after a century or so of monster attacks, history would have diverged radically and pop culture would be unrecognizable. Not so! Maia lives in a world of music and film pretty much like ours. This is a given in superhero universes: even if Galactus comes to town once a week, Selena Gomez still has a successful pop career and Peter Jackson still makes butt-numbingly long Tolkien adaptations.
There are only four Effigies, i.e. not much firepower with which to counter a global Phantom menace. The Sect, the organization managing the Effigies, is doing a crappy job. On the other hand, mundanes aren’t just ambulatory Phantom-bait. Scientists have cobbled up an impressive array of hand-wavy electromagnetic defences2. Between the Effigies and the scientists, humanity is hanging on.
This is an introductory book in a trilogy. It’s more interested in introducing characters and settings than in resolving the problems facing poor beleaguered humanity. The main development is that by the end of the novel, timid Maia is starting to find out just what she’s facing. Readers curious about where this is going will have to read the other two books.
1: It’s not clear how Effigies are chosen, by whatever is doing the choosing. The criteria don’t seem to include bravery or ethics. During the Siege of Seattle, one of the Effigies spent the whole battle flitting from one hiding place to another. Then there was the fire Effigy who was a raging racist. She used her powers to burn down black churches.
2: If they can afford them. It is a plot point that your small villages in underdeveloped nations are disadvantaged in this matter. Presumably this has accelerated flight to urban centres, which are easier to defend.