War is coming, secrets multiply and betrayal waits in the wings…
The Annurian Empire’s ruling family must be vigilant, as the conspiracy against them deepens. Having discovered her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies. But few trust her, until she seems marked by the people’s goddess in an ordeal of flame.
As Adare struggles to unite Annur, unrest breeds rival armies – then barbarian hordes threaten to invade. And unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn has fallen in with forces mustering at the empire’s borders. The terrible choices they face could make war between them inevitable.
Fighting his own battles is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with two strange companions. While imperial forces prepare to defend a far-distant front, Kaden’s actions could save the empire, or destroy it.
Coming so soon after my review for the first book in the series, it’s a little tricky to think of how to write this review. Most of what I loved about The Emperor’s Blades is true for The Providence of Fire: Staveley’s writing and storytelling are great, his characters interesting and nuance. However, all of these elements have improved for this second novel. If you haven’t read Staveley yet, then you are missing out. This is a must read series.
The pacing in this sequel is much better, and the deceased emperor’s children each get a more equitable share of the novel – where before Adare felt rather peripheral and underrepresented, here she gets far more time. Which is handy, as her storyline is becoming more complex and exciting to follow. All of the returning characters move forward and develop. Some do not survive. (Staveley does not seem to be too bothered about killing characters off to move the plot forward.) Also on the pacing, and the only niggle: there were a few more moments when the story jerked forward or sideways, transitions that weren’t as smooth as they could have been. This has the unfortunate effect of making certain scenes feel quite muddled (these scenes were often, also further complicated by peculiar phrasing).
The cast grows, but it is still absolutely manageable – despite the relatively large cast, it’s not at all difficult to keep everyone ordered while reading. Revelations abound in this novel, as many characters’ true natures are revealed. I shall leave that comment there, because… no spoilers.
The plot progresses superbly and in an exciting manner – events are coming to a boil, and the final couple hundred pages are fast-paced, action-packed and pretty awesome. The conspiracy at the root of the series becomes more complex and (for the characters) confused. Who is telling the truth? We’re not entirely sure, by the end. Which is no bad thing. This does raise one concern that I had: the three main characters seem to be so ready to discard what they’ve been thinking and come to believe about the conspiracy and the murder of their father, too ready to accept contradictions presented by others (including those they believe to be at the centre of the conspiracy). This was a little frustrating. But then, I suppose, two of them have been shipped off far from the capital for the past decade, so their relative distance from and ignorance of capital factions, etc., is not surprising.
While reading many of the developments and interactions, I couldn’t help but wonder if Staveley was drawing on US politics to (obliquely) influence the politics of his fantasy world. I may be overthinking that, but I saw shades of modern politics coming through (subtle, though).
In a great many ways, The Providence of Fire builds brilliantly on the foundations laid by The Emperor’s Blades. The novel is more assured, better structured. It is, really, the perfect follow-up. I can’t wait for book three!