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What Would You Give Up to Save the World?

"Then perhaps you can see why the word ‘Princess’ isn’t exactly appropriate,” Steve said sarcastically. “Let alone the rest of that hackneyed Magical Girl word salad you spewed."
Stephen, in Princess Holy Aura
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Princess Holy Aura is a 2017 novel by Ryk E. Spoor, and is his take on the mahou shoujo genre, more specifically the Magical Girl Warrior. Mid-30s overweight Stephen Russ is drafted / recruited / volunteered / drawn into saving the world as Princess Holy Aura, the first of the Apocalypse Maidens.

Baen has also published the short story "On-Site for the Apocalypse" as a freebie.


Princess Holy Aura provides examples of:

  • Advanced Ancient Humans: Lemuria, which Silvertail came from, had very advanced knowledge of magic and its applications.
  • Atlantis: In this case Lemuria, a land of magic and wizards.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: Named, but then immediately subverted. Holy Aura and her team, while explicitly termed the Apocalypse Maidens, aren't destined to bring about the apocalypse, but the opposite:
    "To avert the Apocalypse, and shield the innocent from evil, and stand against the powers of destruction..."
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  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Justified in that, since Steve's body was made over completely into Holly, there was no "normal" female form for her to revert to when not fighting supernatural evil—so Holly's default female appearance was Holy Aura's idealized purple-haired perfection, until Holly insisted Silvertail tweak it down to more normal-human looks.
  • Becoming the Mask: What happens to Holly, which partly horrifies her.
  • Big Bad: Azathoth of the Nine Arms, who tries to consume the entire world at regular intervals.
  • Black and Nerdy: Seika, who is a black bookworm and computer nerd.
    "I wasn't just a geek, I was a geek without any friends."
  • Bland-Name Product: Many store, restaurant, or brand names are obvious aliases for real-world establishments.
    • "Cakes 'N Shakes" = Steak & Shake
      • Word of God is that this isn't an intended reference to the latter
    • "Current Memes" = Hot Topic
    • "DIY Home" = Home Depot
    • "Hearty's" = Hardee's
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    • "OSC" = SCP
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Cordy is blonde, Holly has black hair, and Tierra has red hair.
  • Bookworm: Seika, who when first encountered had a huge stack of books beside her.
  • Cast from Calories: Doing magic or supernatural fighting burns a lot of energy, some of which must come from the magic user. This puts a severe hamper on Silvertail's magic usage.
    The worst trial school currently presented was that they couldn't eat as much as they wanted to without making spectacles of themselves. Seika had discovered that the day after her first transformation. She didn’t quite keep up with Holly in the eating department, but she was now eating more than anyone else in her house, easily.
  • Disappeared Dad: Tierra is raised by her single mother, and does not think highly of her father.
    "I have a father. Biologically. Other than that, he's an asshole."
  • Dual Wielding:
    • Radiance Blaze fights with two fiery chains.
    • Tsunami Reflection uses twin swords.
  • Elemental Powers: The Maidens each represent Air (Tempest Corona), Earth (Temblor Brilliance), Fire (Radiance Blaze), Spirit (Princess Holy Aura), and Water (Tsunami Reflection).
  • Flaw Exploitation: How Nyarla recruits Dexter, drawing on his desire to be the main character and hero of a story.
  • Fatal Flaw: "Dexter's spotlight-hogging tendencies".
  • Gender Bender: A 35-year-old man's choice to become a 14-year-old girl is one of the key points of the story.
  • Genre Savvy: Silvertail set up and helped to propagate many of the Magical Girl memes, and both Holly and Seika are very familiar with the genres and tropes.
    "We're taking the parts of the meme that we know are stupid or dangerous and punching them in the face first."
  • Going Native: How Stephen Russ plans to to handle the problem of finding the rest of the Apocalypse Maidens.
  • Good Parents: Most of the parental figures in the book are caring parents who try to nurture and help their kids.
  • Hammerspace: Silvertail uses Lemurian magic to have ready access to the Apocalypse Brooches, ID documents, and disposable phones.
  • Healing Hands: Tsunami Reflection has strong healing powers, using her element of water. Silvertails is also an able user of healing magic, but it is not his specialty in magic.
  • Heroic Bystander: Devika, who first helps to organise an evacuation in a fight around superpowered beings, and then willingly goes back to help the Apocalypse Maidens.
  • High School: Much of the daily life of Holly Owen is spent there, and is handled realistically for a high school in upstate New York.
  • Jackass Genie: The Mirrortaint, which gains power every time it grants a wish.
    "—and the result wasn’t what she wanted. Sounds like a classic ‘Jerkass Genie’ to me,"
  • Kick Chick: Temblor Brilliance fights exclusively with her feet.
    "I'm an artist, I'm not risking breaking my hands!"
  • Laws of Gender-Bending:
    • First Law of Gender-Bending: After Steve makes the choice to become Holly, he consciously makes the choice to live his daily life as a girl over the months of summer vacation, so he will be fully acclimated by the time the school year comes around and he has to spend time around and among other people.
      • At the end of the story, when Holly sacrifices herself to kill Azathoth and is subsequently brought back, she discovers she has lost the ability to change back into Steve at all.
    • Second Law of Gender Bending: After he becomes acclimated to being a girl, Holly finds changing back into Steve gives her severe body dysphoria, so only does so at times of the most urgent need (such as explaining the whole thing to the other Maidens' parents, or when she picks up a creepy male stalker on a walk home). She also takes great pains to explain to people that, though she started out as Steve, she now considers herself to be Holly in every way that matters. (This is at least in part to try to defang some of the creepiness inherent in a story concept that involves a 35-year-old man hanging out with a bunch of teenaged girls.)
      • It nearly gives Holly a Heroic BSoD when an adversary offers to let her go back to her old male self if she'll join his side, and she explicitly admits for the first time, even to herself, that she doesn't want to go back to being Steve.
    • Third Law of Gender Bending: Very subtle, given this isn't the type of story to indulge in broad gender-based clichés or humor. However, even though Holly is at first uncomfortable at being in the girls' locker room during PE class, she's soon acclimated enough to act naturally feminine in such stereotypical situations as going on a date.
  • The Leader: The story contains several different models of being a leader.
    • Cordy is a charismatic leader with good instincts for psychology.
    • Devika is good at strategy and tactics, with a clear focus on the goal. In this she is similar to Silvertail.
    • Dexter is an example of the headstrong type.
    • Stephen is very good at handling team dynamics.
  • Magical Girl Warrior: Five magically super-powered teenage girls battle Lovecraftian monster, and still have to go to high school.
  • Man, I Feel Like a Woman: At one point, Silvertail advises Holly that the soundproofing on her room may require improvement.
  • Mentor Mascot: Silvertail Heartseeker, who in his default form is a white rat wearing a golden crown.
  • Memory-Wiping Crew: One of the methods that the OSC use to keep themselves and the things they face hidden from the public.
  • The Men in Black: The OSC (or formally Obtain, Secure and Counter) is the secret agency that protects Earth and humanity from supernatural monsters and metawave (i.e. magic) manifestations.
  • Missing Mom: Stephen's mother died before he turned ten, and Holly uses this as a cover for why she lives alone with her dad.
  • Monster of the Week: The frequency of the monsters increase, so by the end of the book the Maidens are close to facing a monster per week, which also is lampshaded, though not all monsters are shown in action. Some of the monsters they face are:
    • A dhole
    • A shoggoth
    • A crazy rhyming axe murderer
    • A phantom clown
  • National Weapon: Tempest Corona uses a khanda, a traditional Sikh and Indian sword.
  • Nerd: Both Seika and Dexter qualify. Especially Dexter suffers from lack of confidence in his already poor social skills, despite being reasonably good-looking.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Silvertail Heartseeker, the white rat and former Lemurian wizard who mentors Stephen Russ and the rest of the magical girls.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted, since Stephen explicitly mentions that he needs to learn how to deal with periods, and later notes that luckily they are not too bad.
  • Old Master: Silvertail Heartseeker, the last living Lemurian wizard, and having survived and mentored several cycles of Apocalypse Maidens.
  • The One Guy: Dex joins the all-girl Steampunk Adventure Club so he can roleplay again.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: Devika, captain of the girl's basketball team while still a sophomore.
  • Player Archetypes: The members of the Steve's old gaming group and the Steampunk Adventure Club at school show different player types:
    • Caitlyn appears to be the Thinker.
    • Chad is a mix of the Actor (The Roleplayer) and the Storyteller.
    • Dexter is a mix of the Actor (The Roleplayer) and the Power Gamer (The Munchkin).
    • Eli and Nikki are the Watcher, probably with a bit of the Actor.
    • Mike is the Watcher.
    • Seika is a mix of the Actor (The Roleplayer) and the Thinker.
    • Tierra is a mix of the Explorer and the Watcher.
  • Pom-Pom Girl: Cordy, a key member of the Whitney High cheerleader squad, though she later admits that she was worried that she might have turned into The Cheerleader.
  • The Power of Friendship: A large part of the novel is about five very different girls from different backgrounds becoming friends and becoming better people due to that.
  • Reconstruction: A lot of the novel deals with the ethics and morality of sending young teenagers into battle. The working title for the novel makes this explicit: "The Ethical Magical Girl".
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: "Damned" is used somewhat regularly by several members of the cast, but Seika uses "fucking" a lot, and has an embarrased pride in her Karkat impression.
  • Slasher Movie: One of the first monsters encountered is a crazy rhyming axe murderer who magically locks Holly's roleplaying group and several of the athletics teams in the school.
  • The Strategist: Silvertail's role, in finding the initial Princess Holy Aura, guiding her and her team-mates, and coming up with a strategy on how to defeat the Big Bad. He has become very good at planning for most eventualities except finding an experienced Princess Holy Aura.
  • Transformation Name Announcement: You thought you'd get away without one, and a Transformation Sequence to boot?
    "To avert the Apocalypse, and shield the innocent from evil, and stand against the powers of destruction...I offer myself as wielder and weapon, as symbol and sword...mistress of the spirit, ruler of the stars beyond, Mystic Galaxy Defender, Princess Holy Aura!"
  • Transformation Trinket: Naturally.
    From apparently nowhere, Silvertail Heartseeker produced a glittering brooch, three inches across, of gold and silvery metal, covered with an elaborate pattern in gems. Even to Steve’s untutored eye, it was exquisitely made, the main body in the shape of a strangely broken-pointed star with a jeweled galaxy across it.
  • Super Gender-Bender: Stephen Russ gains the power to turn into Princess Holy Aura, but in order to find and recruit the other Apocalypse Maidens he also finds that he needs to go back to high school as Holly Owen.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Not only is making long pre-asskicking speeches a free action, they are mandatory.
  • Word Salad Title: Lampshaded early on, and then justified in the short story "On-Site for the Apocalypse":
    "Ah, yes, Prinkípissa Ierí Ávra, Gōngzhǔ Shèngjié Guānghuán, Alii Pomaikai Uhane, the Ruler-Child of the Sacred Spirit. Or, perhaps, the Child who Rules the Sacred Spirit—translations are so difficult, are they not?"
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