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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fantasy Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

In a stunning follow-up to The Emperor's Blades, Brian Staveley builds upon the character-driven adventure of the first book, expanding the history, mythology, and world-building to suitably epic proportions. More than that, The Providence of Fire reveals the treachery of the first book to be merely the opening gambit in a complex, wide-ranging game of conquest and rebellion.

Like the first book, this second volume follows our three protagonists - Adare, Valyn, and Kaden - through their own journeys to discover the truth about the situation in the Annurian capital, and to avenge the death of their father.

Those who felt Adare got shortchanged in the first book will find the narrative balance more to their liking here, although they may not necessarily like her role in the affairs of the Unhewn Throne. In fact, none of the siblings come off as entirely noble or heroic here, with each of them forced to make difficult choices, and ever more difficult alliances. Valyn starts out strongly, but slowly withdraws from the foreground as the book progresses, largely riding the wave of circumstance and waiting for his opportunity. As a result, the women of his wing get to step up and become narrative POV characters themselves. Kaden has a lot to say and even more to do, and there's no doubt he forcefully claims his role as a leader of empires, but his approach is not quite what we've come to expect. Having said that, he definitely grows and develops the most of anybody here, and you have to respect his ability to seize every opportunity and twist it to his own purposes.

None of that is a complaint, however, merely an observation of how much is going on in the novel. There are plots and counter-plots aplenty, with multiple armies on the march, and far more threats to the throne than were hinted at in the first book. Where I felt Staveley stumbled a bit in the plotting of The Emperor's Blades, I did say at the time that I suspected much of the story had yet to be revealed. Wow, was I ever right! As we discover, the empire is under siege from without and within, with spiritual, mythological, historical, and political foes each having a hand in the war that's brewing. By the end of this second volume, the entire conflict has been turned on its head, and we're left wondering what version of events we can trust. What originally seemed to merely be a play for power, a plot to seize the throne, may be a well-intentioned effort to save the empire from its own failings, or merely the opening gambit in a genocidal disaster.

The Providence of Fire is a massive tome - about 25% longer than the first book - that demands your full attention. It's a complex, complicated story, but that's precisely the kind of depth I was looking for here. It's just as well-written as the first, with the words flowing naturally upon the page, and the political strategies are just as fascinating as the battles. I'm not entire sure where he's heading with things, but I do hope the immortal/mythological element doesn't overwhelm the human struggle. It certainly adds an interesting facet to the tale, and really calls into question everything we assumed we knew about the events of the first book, but the siblings have to remain legitimate protagonists for the series to work. Fortunately, I think it's clear Staveley understands that balance, and I suspect there's still more complexities to be revealed as we move into book three.

Most definitely recommended.


Hardcover, 608 pages
Expected publication: January 13th 2015 by Tor Books

10 comments:

  1. As regards Adare: relief! As regards "her role in the affairs of the Unhewn Throne," well.... I have to know, now. Thanks for the heads-up, Bob.

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    1. Definitely a few surprises with Adare here, although nothing out of character. She'll continue to frustrate you early on, but stands up and takes charge in the second half.

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  2. Still skeptical but a few more reviews kin this and I may reconsider. I am glad to hear about Ardee though, her exclusion from the first book was head scratching.

    I remember laughing when I saw the appendex in the first outing; there wasn't half enough depth to justify one- perhaps it was in preparation for this outing.

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    1. This second volume gets complex fast - I have no idea what's really going on what the end-game is and I like that.

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  3. I think I would enjoy the series a lot, it drew my attention with the first part already

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  4. This is on my reading list for next month, and I can't wait now! More depth, more from Adare, and just sounds like more polish all around. Sounds good to me.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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    1. It more than exceeded my expectations - the increased scope/complexity was a pleasant surprise.

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  5. Yay! I have this one and have been hoping to hear positive things. I felt book 1 finished with a setup that could lead to a stronger book 2.

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