Brian Staveley’s hit 2014 fantasy novel, The Emperor’s Blades, is continued in its exciting and immense sequel, The Providence of Fire. I say it’s exciting, because there are an impressive amount of times the book keeps you at the edge of your seat, and I mention it’s immense due to the sheer scope of the novel, pushing out the tight confines of the adventures of the first book. But excitement doesn’t always turn out the way you think it should, and immensity doesn’t always make a novel better – even a fantasy epic like the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Spoilers throughout.
We are thrown right back into the story directly where the last book left off. Kaden, trained by the Shin monks is off to seek the Ishien, another sect of monks whose grasp of the Csestriim vaniate is extremely different, and he hopes to find help with them in some fashion, despite all warnings from his teammates. Valyn and his Kettral unit aid him to an extent until their paths diverge and he heads back to Annur to seek out Adare. And Adare, after finding out that she’s been sleeping with the guy that killed her father, decides to run off and find help elsewhere. But from here on out the plot feels a bit off. As if Staveley had other plans for this book and changed them at the last minute.
The way the story was headed by the end of The Emperor’s Blades left us with reasonable expectations of what we can come to expect from this sequel, but it doesn’t fulfill any of those expectations. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as throwing your reader off is the nature of making a story captivating page after page. But there were several moments I felt let down by the total tonal shift this book portrayed. “Oh okay, so the Ishien aren’t actually going to help them, Kaden’s visit was totally a waste of time, and now they’re after them.” “Hmm, Adare could’ve really done something cool and useful with the knowledge of the kenerang’s betrayal and now she’s running away to… get an army of people she just disbanded?” “So Valyn’s entire arc was ruined because Pyrre couldn’t keep her knives to herself?” “Where did this war just come from?”
That said, the way the story shaped up, despite the events and the way they played out, was actually very cool. I love the addition of the Atmani still being around, and the fact that the gods are represented much like humans are. Triste’s arc was fascinating and horrifying at the same time. I feel terrible for her, but I’m still loving each scene she’s in – she’s good to keep around. I even learned to like the fact that this war that came out of nowhere was just a bunch of awesome. A lot of the book relied on awesome, and that’s a serious strength in this series.
Staveley’s ability to realistically worldbuild and create an empire that totally feels believable is one of the best parts about the series altogether. There are very few fantasy clichés present, and the ones that do exist are pulled off with finesse.
Something I didn’t much like? The fact that near the end characters are only introduced when they’re convenient for the plot to go in the direction Staveley wishes they do. This happens primarily in Kaden’s POV, particularly when he gets back to Annur. Most of the characters from this point on were far too convenient for the furtherment of the plot for me to take seriously. The First Speaker? The Council of nobles? Even Triste’s mother. Would they have been introduced if the story didn’t have Kaden attempting to form a Republic? And whoa, where did that come from? That was such a random choice of actions for Kaden to make on the fly! Sure, he didn’t want to rule. But I just couldn’t buy the fact that he would just randomly give all of his family’s enemies power.
Gwenna’s point of view was a refreshing alternative to Adare’s nauseating one. We actually get some real character development for her and the other Kettral woman with her, including Pyrre. Her POV is interesting as it shows how she becomes humbled through some of the events she is made to endure, and that only makes her a stronger character. Adare on the other hand is hands down the worst character in the series. She’s rash, she’s emotional, and she’s given far too much power. Adare’s like Sansa Stark if she were running an army. Just a mess.
The book plays on the fact that each character’s actions are perceived differently from ones vantage point to another. Kaden thinks his sister usurped their father. Adare thinks Valyn is a traitor. And so on. This would be okay if the characters actually had time to talk it out at some point in the novel with each other. But they don’t get that privelege, and if they do it’s not a sufficient enough conversation. This gets really frustrating, especially with the imbecility of Adare ruining the ending to an eye-rolling degree. All-in-all, the book is still extremely good. But not the sequel I wanted.