The Annurian Empire’s ruling family must be vigilant, as the conspiracy against them deepens. Having discovered her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies. But few trust her, until she seems marked by the people’s goddess in an ordeal of flame.
As Adare struggles to unite Annur, unrest breeds rival armies – then barbarian hordes threaten to invade. And unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn has fallen in with forces mustering at the empire’s borders. The terrible choices they face could make war between them inevitable.
Fighting his own battles is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with two strange companions. While imperial forces prepare to defend a far-distant front, Kaden’s actions could save the empire, or destroy it.
Last year Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades was one of the big debut titles of the year. I enjoyed it a lot. I found it a return to traditional epic fantasy, less of the grimdark, but updated to today. It was also a return to a traditional length, and Staveley’s second book is even bigger. Seriously, this hardback will kill a chihuahua when accidentally dropped on them from a height. With The Providence of Fire Staveley has gone bigger and better in all aspects.The book is just a fantastic follow up to a solid debut and I had a fantastic time with it.
One of the biggest complaints about The Emperor’s Blades was the limited amount of page time Adare gets. People felt she received short shrift and combined with the fridging of one of the other female characters his treatment of his female characters got some flack. Staveley more than made up for that in The Providence of Fire. Because there is lots of Adare this time around and she was fantastic. She takes matters into her own hand and does it in style. However, she’s still very much a daughter of her society and planning on handing power over to Kaden once she’s ended Il Tornja’s regency. It’s interesting to see her struggle with this sense of duty and her feeling of unfairness at the fact that she, who has all the right credentials up to and including the burning eyes of the Malkeenians, can’t take the Unhewn Throne because she was born a woman. Dare really comes into her own in this book, but she also takes some decisions and actions that place her just off to the side of the angels. I can’t wait to see how Staveley develops this potentially tragic heroine.
But however much I loved having more Adare in the book, Gwenna stole the show. In The Providence of Fire the three viewpoints of the siblings are augmented by a fourth one, that of Valyn’s Wingmate Gwenna, the Wing’s ammunitions expert. Gwenna is awesome. She takes no shit, she can blow things up and she’s volatile in more than one sense of the word. But she’s also extremely loyal and very brave and I loved seeing her take on what happened to her and Valyn and their Wing. Gwenna’s isn’t the only female character whose presence takes on more importance compared to the previous book. We see far more of the Skullsworn assassin Pyrre and the leina-apprentice Triste. I really liked Pyrre’s hedonistic presence and her almost casual disregard for her own life, which is of course not so surprising if you are in the service of the death god. Triste becomes very interesting, she turns out to be far more than just a pretty face meant to snare Kaden into a trap and she is at the heart f one of the bigger revelations in the book. The last new female character is Nira, sardonic, tough as nails and old as dirt. Dare meets her on the road and Nira takes Adare under her wing, judging that she needs guidance and the interactions between them and Nira’s history were absolutely wonderful.
Valyn, meanwhile, was still a great character too and I loved the way Staveley made him face up to his shortcomings. Valyn has to learn that failure is not just a question of making the wrong decisions; sometimes, even making the right decisions can lead to failure. At times his sense of being overwhelmed and under-equipped was almost tangible and made my stomach knot up. Though, to be honest, where his story line was my favourite in the previous book, it might have been my least favourite in this one. Kaden’s on the other hand was fascinating. His arc not only reveals much of Annurian history, but is full of political plots as well. Kaden truly moves outside of the box in his attempt at defeating Ran il Tornja, which I thought was a genius and unexpected move on his part.
In his recent Rocket Talk interview Staveley stated that he sought to give each of the siblings mastery of a skill, Kaden has command of his emotions, Valyn is a master of the physical, and Adare is in full control of her intellect. While these were very clearly delineated in book one, in book two there are clear shifts in power and in skills. We see Kaden learn more ways of defending himself, while Valyn wishes he could be more emotionally controlled like Kaden in some situations and Adare just wishes she’d have had some more military strategy training. All of them wish to have something one of the others was taught. I found this a great movement in the narrative and I wonder how this might help unite the siblings in the final book.
In The Providence of Fire the training wheels are off and the action accelerates from 0 to 60 in no time, escaping second book syndrome with ease; the plot thickens, the action ramps up, and the world building explodes. Staveley pulls reveal upon reveal out of his writerly hat and each reveal made me readjust my estimation of who to trust, of who were the good guys and who to root for. Staveley ends on some pretty big bombshells that can only provide great fireworks when they explode in the final book. The Providence of Fire is a fabulous sequel and now I only have one problem: book three is a year away. I can’t wait to find out how this story will end. The good news for any epic fantasy fan that hasn’t started the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne yet, is that you have two great books to read in the next year in preparation for that last instalment.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.