“This was not about Kimberly’s battle with the other girls. It never had been. They were servants. Her fight was with the creature they served.”

I call the Girls Underground archetype an “initiatory journey,” so it’s only fitting that Nick Baron’s book The Initiation (part of The Nightmare Club series) follows the plot points.

Kimberly is a senior in high school, just transferred to a new boarding school with an emphasis on horse-riding. Her parents are dead, and her guardians are eager to be rid of her. She is reviled and rejected by her classmates, selected for a special type of hazing until she is unexpectedly and inexplicably saved by Ashlyn, a rich and popular girl. Ashlyn’s clique is called the Predators, and Kimberly will soon find out why.

Soon after becoming friends with the Predators, Kimberly meets Griff and finds herself instantly in love. With new friends and a great boyfriend, all would be well if not for her troubling nightmares, in which she is leading children through the forest and giving them over to a terrifying and ghostly gray horse, who clearly means them harm. As Kimberly’s waking life gets better and better (things seem to “magically” go her way and she’s becoming quite powerful), the trouble brewing beneath the surface gets worse. Things quickly spiral out of control, and Kimberly loses herself in her new power and status, alienating Griff in the process. When the Predators reveal the source of their power, she discovers that her initiation must involve the sacrifice of a person she holds dear. Is she willing to do what it takes to be granted her deepest wish, the return of her parents?

As is often the case, the apparent adversary (Ashlyn) is really just a minion in service of a greater power (in this case, a horse-shaped evil entity akin to a kelpie) – though in this story, it’s even more complicated as the minions all appear to be her companions at first (and thus, all of them betray her). Kimberly initially succumbs to temptation (as many GU protagonists do, best illustrated by Lily in Legend or Helena in Mirrormask), but eventually exposes Ashlyn’s fraud and turns against her. Helped by a mysterious woman at the local club who knows more than she should, Kimberly discovers the history of the beast and a possible way to defeat it and save her boyfriend. She must fight through illusions and remember the truth (much like Sarah in Labyrinth).

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