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)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Blogger Interviews Blogger About Blogging

Every so often over the past (almost) 10 years of blogging, the view is reversed and I go for an interesting journey into the looking glass. What am I talking about? When a blogger interviews another blogger about blogging. Sometimes it's not even as boring as I imply it is - and I hope that's the case with this interview where 'S' of SCY-FY: The Blog of S.C. Flynn asks me a few questions. I offer some 'wisdom', make some jokes, and even follow my own advice to not take myself too seriously. Am I zen blogger, or just a crotchety old blogger? Choose for yourself.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and thanks to Stuart for the fun interview!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Mini-Review: Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) was released to great fanfare and critical acclaim, which had been preceded by a good bit of buzz that began when the spectacular cover art and intriguing synopsis were released some months earlier. I was one of those who began looking forward to this book way before it was released. Then I heard the early buzz from early readers, though I waited until the book was released to read it, and I only got more excited. And of course I waited until a couple of months after I finished the book to finally write this review.

One result is that I have very little to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere (often much better than I could say it myself). First – the book is awesome, it easily lives up to the early buzz and critical acclaim. Second – this book has a wonderful, wonderful voice to it. The main protagonist, Karen Memery, brings life to this first person narration. It’s pulp fiction. It’s the weird west. And it’s beautifully told through the foul, honest mouth of a ‘seamstress’.

Come for the steampunk, weird west, alternate history, tale set in the low streets of a new city a lot like Seattle, featuring a classy bordello full of exquisitely interesting people as they dive into a murder-mystery and are aided by the real-life origin of the Lone Ranger and his fictional Native American sidekick. Stay for the addictively unique voice of Miss Memery, LGBTQ characters, romance, dirigibles, submarines, bio warfare, mind control gloves, and a sewing machine that doubles as mechanical armor. No worries – that doesn’t even cover it all, but it should give you a taste of just why you should run (not walk) and start reading this book right now.

Hyperbole aside (and the actual description is not hyperbole – it really is that cool), Bear gives voice to voices that are traditionally mute and go no further than ‘yes sir’, ‘no sir’, etc. Subversive is a term that gets bandied about here. And as wonderful all that is – it’s the voice, Karen Memery’s voice that makes this book a great book. Miss Memery charms the reader, refills the bourbon, charms the reader some more, refills the bourbon again, and then she gets animated in her story as you continue to refill the bourbon between moments of laughter and anxious tension.  

Elizabeth Bear really is writing at the top of her game right now and getting long deserved recognition at just the right time. Few authors pull off such a varied bibliography half so well, and Karen Memory just may top it all (at least for the moment). Go ahead, jump on the steamwagon for this one – it’s a wild ride and one hell of a tale to hear told.

And now, I want to read this again. With a bourbon in hand.

Better make it a double.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Speculative Fiction 2014

So, it's my book day today, at least a book that is published today has me in it, which is just a bit weird when I still hold to the idea of not being a writer. Anyway, Speculative Fiction 2014, edited by  Renay Williams and Shaun Duke is out today (and published by The Book Smugglers). It features an all star mix of fannish writing that includes more than a few authors better known for their fiction. It's quite an honor to be able to (even tangentially) claim these contributors as my peers. 

Speculative Fiction 2014: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary (Amazon, Book Smugglers)

I'm particularly pleased to be in this book because I didn't submit anything for consideration. What this means is that someone read something I wrote here and thought it was so worthy that they submitted it for consideration. Or the editors themselves saw it. However it happened, I find that especially touching. It's pretty great to have others recognize what I write here as being worthwhile in some way - that recognition may not be the reason I blog, but it's certainly a nice touch. 

Anyway, I'm tempted to not spoil the book and force you to search out what my submission is, but my vanity is indeed getting the better of me, and you can find it at this link. I believe that review puts me in a bit of a 'critical minority opinion' regarding that book.

I suppose it's worth noting that I'm now 2/3 on the Speculative Fiction collection series. I was also in Speculative Fiction 2012 (Amazon) for this review. Hell, all this honor is almost enough to get me to post more than once a month. 

Anyway, it is an honor and it's also a great collection that I encourage you all to read. 


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