Book Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

In a stunning follow-up to The Emperor’s BladesBrian 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.

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