Book Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

I just finished reading The Providence of Fire, Brian Staveley’s second book in his gripping and epic debut fantasy series The Unhewn Throne.

The Providence of Fire picks up where the first book, The Emperor’s Blades left. The Emperor, Sanlitun, is still dead and his three very different children are suddenly each thrust into vast struggles where their training hardly proves adequate.

Kaden, heir to the throne, and a pupil in a mountain monastery saw the monastery – his home for eight years – destroyed and the monks killed. The murderers of his father seem intent on destroying his whole line.

Together with a monk named Rampuran Tan, who is far more than he seems, he sets out to find the answers and on the way meets even stranger people. Unable to physically fight like Valyn his younger brother and without any allies and lacking the political shrewdness of his sister, Adare, Kaden turns to his training in the mountains for the solution. If he cannot save the empire, he will break it.

Then there’s Valyn, the Emperor’s youngest son and a highly trained warrior, part of the famed Kettral- a warrior unit which rides huge birds. Risking banishment and labeled a traitor for saving his brother, Valyn finds himself in hostile lands where a barbarian host is massing and travelling towards the empire. Valyn is a skilled warrior and able leader but he soon realises that the training at the Kettral island is inadequate to fully understand the world of politics and betrayal in which he finds himself.

Adare is the oldest of the emperor’s children, and the one most familiar with the political processes of the empire. After discovering that her father’s killer is her lover and the general of the empire, she flees the capital to raise her own army.

Staveley also offers a fourth viewpoint, that of the Kettral demolitions expert, Gwenna, a tough young woman who gives a new and interesting perspective.

In The Providence of Fire Staveley improves his character development, particulary Adare, who we see more of and whose shrewdness gives the story unexpected twists and turns.

The Providence of Fire also expands the world of the Annurian Empire, historical titbits are revealed and the geography of the world is covered more broadly as the characters travel unlike the first book which focused on Kaden at the monastery, Valyn at the Kettral island and Adare at the Palace.

A bigger picture also starts to emerge with new players who cast doubts on what the reader may have deduced or guessed. Il Tornja, who murdered the Emperor, is shown to have many sides and nothing is ever what it seems.

The book also introduces new powerful characters with their own agendas and offers glimpses into the working and thinking of the mysterious non-human Csestriim .

One of the problems I had with Staveley was that he seemed to reveal his secrets a little too early. While he does this still in The Providence of Fire, Staveley has the ability to weave a complex tale and the revelations will only reveal to the reader how little has been reduced. The complexity of his characters, particularly Adare, make them unpredictable and nothing in the book is ever what it seems.

The Providence of Fire is a great book one which I found hard to put down. It is arguably better than the first and a more compete read though it ends with a lot of questions unanswered and leaves the reader desperately waiting for the next volume. In The Providence of Fire Staveley cements his place amongst epic fantasy’s new greats such as Anthony Ryan, Patrick Rothfuss and Joe Abercombie.

A must read.

Rating: 5 stars

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