The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
If you haven’t read the first book of the trilogy, you can read my spoiler free review of The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley (Book Review) instead!
Shortly after discovering the truth about who assassinated her father, Adare makes a desperate move to escape the Dawn Palace under disguise and look for allies against the conspirators. The road ahead is difficult, especially when you can trust no one, and Adare soon runs into trouble.
Meanwhile, Valyn and Kaden are hiding in the mountains with their motley crew of the defiant Kettral wing, young Triste who is much more than what she seems and a monk that knows how to kill. Their fate will lead them to separate ways, but both brothers will need to make difficult decisions. Starting with Kaden visiting the dangerous and unpredictable Ishien and asking for their help against the eminent menace of the Csestriim.
The second installment in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy follows the three siblings a few days or weeks after the end of the first book The Emperor’s Blades. With the first book not exactly blowing my mind of but still managing to keep some level of potential to come, I decided to keep going and pick up The Providence of Fire. The second novel was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2015 for the Fantasy genre and it currently holds a rating of 4.17 on Goodreads. It is rather obvious then, that reader seem to really enjoy Staveley’s story. To me, however, it is becoming more and more clear that this series is a very basic introduction to fantasy.
Your Radiance. The title still sounded wrong, unstable and treacherous, like spring ice on a mountain tarn, the whole surface groaning even as it glittered, ready to crack beneath the weight of the first unwary foot.
To give credit were credit is due, The Providence of Fire did improve on the issues I had with the first novel. While not dramatic, change in the manner Staveley deals with his female characters can be seen halfway in the second book. Where the female characters of the first book were obviously inferior to the male ones in terms of mental capacity and decision-making, the second book bandages the problem; every character in this novel makes many illogical or at least questionable decisions. One can see how this is a new and very hard to ignore issue, since a fantasy novel that prides itself heavy on the politics is extremely lacking in characters that are capable of making sane decisions. It is, basically, a bad version of Game of Thrones.
People kill to get power, they kill to keep power, and they kill to if they think they might lose it, which is pretty much always.
Another criticism I had for the first book was the small cast of characters, the limited world building and the very simplistic storyline. Starting with the characters, one can see the most evident advancement. Despite the fact that all of the people in this novel seem to have an extreme impairment in logical thinking and decision making, one thing I have to acknowledge is the humour. Specifically, I actually enjoyed the Skullsworn woman, Pyrre. She was the only person that stood out for her humour and badassery. Moreover, the characters seem to be more concrete with solid identities and distinct personalities. Thankfully, Staveley’s skills in writing female characters somewhat bettered themselves between the first and the second novel to the point that I did not get annoyed by the women of the Unhewn Throne Chronicle this time.
Sometimes the good leader has to quit leading and trust his men.
Coming back to the three protagonists, Adare was once more portrayed as a naive little girl who does whatever random decision her brain produces without thinking about the consequences which, by itself, is fine. Adare is an ignorant, young woman who grew up in a palace with no tutelage of ruling an empire. What was completely ridiculous though, is how she manages to persuade people to bend at her will without even inventing solid arguments. One Malkeenian that is completely unfit to rule the empire. Kaden, is portrayed as this super-ethical character, a true stereotypical image for a monk, that wants what’s best for the empire and is ready to sacrifice himself to achieve peace and prosperity. His obsession with the innocence and exoneration of Triste, who becomes a mystical and questionable character, is ridiculous. Kaden character boils down to being a big baby with power that he cannot control and a too hackneyed sense of righteousness. And last but not least, Valyn, a soldier who acquires special powers in the first book only to never use them in the second novel. A Wing leader with no power over his wing and who believes that supporting his brother in sitting the Unhewn Throne is his life’s mission; a brother that is, who claims the throne because of his gender and eye colour.
You cannot drink hope. You cannot breathe it or eat it. It can only choke you.
The second novel introduces more magical elements and a history of gods who once ruled the empire and are now extinct, but not really. This is an interesting premise that constitutes the foundation or main idea behind many successful fantasy stories. This makes it the ideal first read for adolescents who are looking for a decent introduction into adult fantasy. The protagonists think and act like adolescents/young adults, the magic system is simple yet present, the world building is limited and basic, and the story is a plain and simplistic version of greater fantasy works. Furthermore, Staveley introduces many small details seen in George R. R Martin’s or Steven Erikson’s books. For example, soldiers calling women “sir” which we see in the Malazan novels. It also includes foul language, as seen in most adult fantasy novels, and some graphic scenes that are digestible enough for even younger readers who can stomache some blood and gore.
“Cutting,” he said again, drawing the word out as though tasting it, “and burning, and breaking. The fucking breaking. Drowning. And cold. Again and again, over and over until you shatter” he said, stabbing at his own skull with a finger. “Until you break up here.”
After having already experienced the greatness of Martin, Erikson, Robin Hobb, Tolkien et al. though, I can claim with certainty that Staveley brings nothing new to the table and his decent prose cannot complement the lack of every other element that makes a fantasy series great. This is a very mediocre read, one that I would only recommend to younger readers or fantasy newbies.
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