The Providence of Fire review

Thursday, May 21, 2015


The Providence of Fire is the second novel in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series by last year debut author Brian Staveley. His first book, The Emperor's Blades received good reviews, your host included, tagging it a nice if classical Epic Fantasy story.  The first book was released back in January 2014 and the follow-up was out earlier this year, in January to be precise. The final novel of the trilogy, The Last Mortal Bond, should be out early next year.
The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over. 
Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire's most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.  
Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.
First, here's a recap of my review of Staveley's The Emperor's Blades:
To wrap things up, I would return to my opening statement, The Emperor's Blades is not the new thing that everybody will speculate about.  However, it offers interesting characters and even if the story and much of the "Medieval-themed" world building is conventional, it will quench the thirst of Epic Fantasy lovers in need of something familiar with some novelty here and there.  A commendable debut that will bring you back to old Fantasy we use to love.
As I hope you can gather, I liked the book enough to pick up the follow-up almost as soon as it was released. The best part about it is that the conventional epithet, a characteristic yielding a negative feeling more often than not, can almost be crossed out in the Providence of Fire. Staveley elevated his story, characters and writing to wrap it all out in a fascinating progression. With two books behind the belt, now Staveley's should be something more readers speculate about.

I would also note that Staveley's been quite present within the blogsphere, a fact I really appreciate in an author.  It must have helped in comparison with last year, when the full advertising machine was working for his debut (but the second book didn't seem to benefit from the same treatment).

The Emperor's Blade was an origin/coming of age story for both brothers, Valyn becoming the leader of a wing of Kettral, the 'shadowy' elite strike force of the empire and Kaden finding out what it means to be the emperor of the mighty Annurian Empire and being taught the ancient technique of the Shins, allowing him to go through the kenta gates. Meanwhile, Adare found out who the traitor behind the murder of her father really was. Taking it all into account, I thought that the Providence of Fire would feel like the standard bridging novel but the author really surprised me with a great plot, slower in the first half of the book and picking up pace to a suspenseful degree all the way to the end.

Still, not all of the threads are captivating at first. Adare is frustrating but not completely annoying. With three points of view and only one of them a woman, it could be an aggravating factor but even if women characters aren't the best proposition of the author's work, their presence is felt and they are not banal or cliché. That's mostly the case with Valyn's Kettral companions (Gwenna and Pyrre at the head of them) and the more interesting and mysterious Triste, who follows Kaden.  We knew the girl was more that she seems and she definitely but unwillingly proves it several times.

Hopefully, Adare finally meets up with fascinating new partners, the grumpy and unearthly Nira and her absent-minded brother (again, not what they seem) and the leader of the Sons of Flame, her new army. With a new title worthy of legend, Intarra's Prophet eventually reunites with her nemesis, Ill Thornja, and finds out that her late father's Empire is in peril and she has to put her fate in a traitor for its survival. However, she's doesn't really understand the forces at play and it will even put her at odds with her two brothers. Her ignorance, the side effects it creates and her actions atone for a less engrossing flight following the events of the first book.  The Unhewn Throne is up for grabs.

Meanwhile, lots of things are happening to the brothers. Even if Valyn's training is sadly over, his flight from the mountains housing the Shin's destroyed monastery couldn't have been more eventful. Taken prisoner by the new force gathering against Ill Thornja, the Urghul barbarian hordes (a little touch of vintage Fantasy here), he eventually finds himself chasing his father murderer while putting his partners at risk. The more interesting parts of Valyn's arc are all his errors (who would have thought) and the fact that he continues to run things with his reduced wing. The young leader is freshly out of training and it shows. That's how experience is gained and to see it happen to him first hand through all his mistake is gripping.

And then Kaden. Man... how could the young Emperor-to-be monk could turn out to be so compelling a protagonist in book 2? The hesitating Malkeenian heir, with the help of his new impassive observance of the world and people isn't getting overwhelmed when he meets with Rampuri Tan's fallen people. Even if they are holding one of the dangerous and now infamous Csestrimm. Escaping them, he finds new allies and with Triste and Kiel (a Csestrimm historian) and returns to the Annurian capital. That's when he slowly becomes a harbinger of change for the Empire he's supposed to inherit. Maybe even more so than the other true threats emerging from the darkness. Staveley's hid some cards his hands very well in his first book and it paid off.

Kaden hopelessly trying to create the laws of a new republic with the help of Kiel and being turned down created some nice scenes. There's also one factor stood out but with both brothers. Valyn and Kaden always think that Ill Thornja is planning everything surrounding their actions ahead of them. That naive obsession is restraining them more often than not but each time, their personal deliberations are welcomed (even if I admit that some occurrences may have stretched...).

Another interesting element of Staveley's second opus is the forces in play. Ill Thornja, the Macguffin villain becomes much more than an evil mastermind. The history of the world is way deeper than I thought (thanks mostly to Kaden's thread).  Things have grayed out.  Staveley didn't reveal the whole potential of his tale and world in The Emperor's Blade, maybe risking to be regarded as more simplistic and losing some potential readers but there was way more than meets the eye. The rich world building could hold off more story than this trilogy. Even the Gods are meddling and creating drama.

There you have it. The Providence of Fire is a praiseworthy follow-up to a commendable debut. With Staveley's world, narrative and characters expanding considerably, The Last Mortal Bond now has more weight on its shoulders but I'm more than hopeful that Brian can deliver another entertaining Epic Fantasy novel.

Cover: Richard Anderson strikes again. It's not as gorgeous as The Emperor's Blade cover illustration but the style is amazing and it looks good.
Release date: January 13th 2015
Map: Indeed, of the Annurian Empire and environs
Number of pages: 608 pages hardcover edition
Acquisition method: Physical copy courtesy of Tor
Other: A short appendix

I liked...Was disappointed by...
The world building and deeper historyAdare's first half of the book
Kaden's evolution and Valyn's  hardships denouementSome dumb moves by the 'villains'
The new forces in play revealed
The pace,  overall writing and the story itself


The Providence of Fire review rating :


1 comments:

Tristan said...

sounds interesting. Might have to check these out.

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