Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

Hello good readers, I know that you are all fans of epic fantasy so I have this book that I just have to introduce you to. I believe that this is as close to a perfect match as you’re going to find in this crazy world and I just know that it will lead to a long-lasting relationship. I’m sure you’ve seen it pop up through the internet matching sites, and maybe you’ve flirted with the idea, or maybe you’ve been reluctant to explore further, but this is the one. First, it’s a classic and even nostalgic epic fantasy that we recognize from the glory days of the 1980s and 90s, but trust me in this, it has modern sensibility. I know that this is the second book in the trilogy and I was a bit mixed when I met the first book, but this one builds on the first book so well that those previous problems go away. It grows, it improves, it actually makes its world a better place….well we hope it will. But I’m sure it will because this book is just perfect.

So, here is The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley – I just know you’re going to love it.

As mentioned above, I reviewed the first book in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series, The Emperor’s Blades and found it a bit mixed. In the end I enjoyed the book very much because of just how compelling the book is, how much fun it is to read. I had a few qualms about the worldbuilding (mostly me being picky), an issue with a female character not getting the screen time she deserves (and that we were promised), and what bothered me most was that this appeared to be yet another book about restoring the status quo in epic fantasy without any move toward actual progress in the world.

Staveley must have laughed at my review, knowing what he was going to do in The Providence of Fire.

It’s the second book of the series – and as proper, worldbuilding takes a back seat to the story and continued character development. And when it’s needed, Staveley deftly weaves into the rest of the story. Picky problem I had with book 1 neatly goes away.

This is Adare’s book in many ways. The Emperor’s Blades was mostly about the brothers, but in The Providence of Fire Adare comes to life. The brothers are there, and I’m guessing there’s pretty equal time, but Adare isn’t left behind in this. The book still has too few female characters overall, but those that are there are the real deal. Issue 2 I had with book 1 shows great improvement.

One of the biggest and least recognized problems with ‘traditional’ epic fantasy is that it is inherently conservative – it fights for maintaining the status quo, or a return to the past, and it’s often some form of governance that is tyranny by another name and keeps peoples firmly in their ‘place’. The Emperor’s Blades is presented as another version of this epic fantasy – the heirs to an empire fight to keep the empire intact. The Providence of Fire throws a wrench into the machine – a giant wrench, a hugely progressive idea. Where will it go…it’s too soon to say after book 2. But I love that The Providence of Fire isn’t fighting for the status quo of epic fantasy.

All of that great improvement I point to above is almost secondary, because, what The Providence of Fire does best, and better than just about any other epic fantasy book that comes to mind as I write this, is keep the reader guessing. The Providence of Fire plays coy, amps up the mystery as it slowly seduces the reader. It is irresistible.

This is the second book in a trilogy, and I still can’t say with any certainty who is the bad guy/gal. I don’t know – there are too many layers of possibility. And this is not a structural problem of the book – it’s as compelling as ever. In fact, it’s what really makes things stand out, because this may be a classic style epic fantasy about an empire in turmoil, barbarian invaders, court intrigue, ancient races, tyrannical sorcerers, meddling gods, and everything in between THAT DOESN’T HAVE A ‘BAD GUY’. This might be a case where everyone is a little (or more) bad and a little (or more) good with the ultimate challenge to find an ultimate balance that works for the world.

Or I could be completely off and there is a BIG BAD that the ‘good guys’ will defeat. That could work too (though former sounds so much cooler to me). It’s an amazing act of balance that has allowed Staveley to keep the reader completely guessing at such a relatively late stage in the trilogy without it destroying the credibility of the plot and the development of the characters.

So… that you’ve met The Providence of Fire, what do you think? Simply irresistible, am I right? Have fun together, remember me fondly and behave.

Pssttt…I also have my eye on The Last Mortal Bond and I’m not-so-secretly hoping it gets kinky.

Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne

The Emperor’s Blades (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
The Providence of Fire (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
The Last Mortal Bond (Forthcoming: Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)

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