WARNING: THIS IS A REVIEW FOR BOOK TWO IN THE SERIES. IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK 1, THE EMPEROR’S BLADES, GO CHECK OUT MY REVIEW OF THAT BOOK INSTEAD. THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR IT.
I don’t like the official summary for the book. It spoils about half of it, and I’m honestly a little annoyed that I read it before I picked up the book itself. In fact, this is the summary that has made me try to stop reading summaries for books before reading the books. From here on out, I would like to try to not read them at all. But, in the interest of all of you who came here looking, I’m going to try to write a less spoilery back cover copy myself. You can skip over it if you want.
Adare has discovered that her lover is a traitor who helped to kill her father. A traitor who now holds more power than perhaps anyone else in the empire of Annur. She knows she is no longer safe in the Dawn Palace, but to escape she must first avoid her ever-present guards, guards she does not know if she can still trust.
Adare’s brother, Kaden, is the heir to their father’s throne. Before he can take the throne, however, he must travel safely home—a journey he has no idea how he will make when all those he might have called friend for the past ten years have been slaughtered. He is far away in the mountains with one of the strangest groups he has ever found himself part of, and he knows he can no longer trust those who are assigned to project him.
Valyn, the third child, made some incredibly dangerous enemies when he turned his back on the Kettral, the most elite fighting force in the world, to rescue his brother. Now, he must simultaneously try to keep himself and his brother alive, and find a way to get them to safety, all while learning to trust a mysterious warrior monk and submit to his brother’s commands—for Kaden is the Emperor now, and Valyn has spent years determining the course of his own life among some of the harshest fighters in the world.
And none of them can see of the darker, more powerful forces that move in the shadows, twisting empires to their wills and willing to tear the world apart to get what they want.
The Emperor’s Blades was my favorite novel from a new author in 2014, and one of the most intensely paced books I’ve ever read. Staveley has a brilliant sense of the epic yet intensely personal saga that grips with breathtaking action from the first page to the last.
So, I had very high expectations of The Providence of Fire, expectations that it was going to have to work very, very hard to live up to. Higher expectations, perhaps, than I place on any book except a Sanderson, and higher than I place on some Sanderson novels–The Providence of Fire actually outranked a Sanderson novel on my most anticipated list for this year. When I got an ARC in November, I was anxious to see what happened in the world—and if the book lived up to my expectations.
(I should be able to leave that alone as my review, but… Okay. I’ll elaborate.)
The Providence of Fire did not, for me, quite match the incredible pacing that Staveley achieved in The Emperor’s Blades. And that’s fine with me. While The Emperor’s Blades came in at around 475 pages, The Providence of Fire is about 600, a good bit longer. I don’t think I could handle quite the same pace throughout the entire thing and come out alive. But that does not mean in any way that the book is slow or boring. It’s still much, much faster paced and more intense all the way through than much of the other fantasy I read—even the really good stuff. I’m not entirely sure how Brian does it—I’ve never been able to step back far enough from the story to really examine the craft behind it. It’s just too intensely good and readable.
The Providence of Fire is a much more political novel too, especially with Adare’s plot-line. Probably my biggest complaint with the first book was that it didn’t have enough female viewpoints or character balance. This book definitely fixes that, both with a much more expanded role for Adare, and the inclusion of at least two more important female characters I won’t name because it would be a spoiler. Adare’s plot, her dealings with the traitor and the religions of the people, could easily have become bogged down in politics. But Staveley manages to keep the tension high and the excitement flowing, even in the scenes that could easily have become travelogues. Kaden and Valyn have very interesting plots as well, and saying much of anything about them is a spoiler.
Staveley quickly reached the point where he was flipping between all three characters, always making me not wanting to leave the character whose chapter I had just finished, yet always looking forward to the next one. While the pacing allows for occasional moments where you can actually breathe, it’s always nearly impossible to physically put the book down and go about your life. Even when you do, it sticks with you, making you want to know what happened next.
And there are plenty of twists—it’s not just an action book. There are several really powerful revelations that I didn’t see coming, and some I wonder exactly how long Staveley has been plotting and planning to unleash on us. There were several times where I had to stop reading, hard though it was, and simply sit there for a moment to process exactly what had happened and what I had just learned.
(Seriously, Brian, how long did you have the Hendran line coming?)
The viewpoints begin to diversify later in the book, giving the trilogy more of an epic feel. But Staveley manages to keep the cast under control and the plot moving forward, in some places by trimming characters… Be prepared for a few scenes that will hit hard. The ending, in particular, is brutal and massive, and simultaneously has me clapping and demanding the next book. I’ve been following Staveley on Twitter, and I’m really glad to know that the first draft is done and off into edits. I’ll be watching closely for updates and any way I can get my hands on an early copy.
I have to take a moment here to stop and once again admire Richard Anderson’s amazing cover art, as well as the incredible map inside by Isaac Stewart (both of which were included in the ARC I read). They really provide the finishing touches to make this book a work of art, and it’s always nice to see such an accurate depiction on the front cover that really represents the events of a book. Also, I’m really hoping to see some amazing Adare cosplay—you’ll know what I’m talking about once you’ve read it.
In summary: The Providence of Fire is a longer, slightly less insanely paced book than The Emperor’s Blades, but it is nevertheless an incredible, epic read that leaves me hungering for more, as soon as I can get my grubby paws on it. Five of five stars without a question.