The Providence of Fire is the sequel to Brian Staveley’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Blades, which came out last year to a lot of acclaim. I read The Emperor’s Blades when it came out, but didn’t review it – I liked it enough to want to read the sequel pretty much immediately when I got it, but I had forgotten who most of the characters were.
In The Providence of Fire, we’re following the three children of the murdered Emperor of Annur as they try to save their empire from forces that are trying to tear it apart. Adare is in the capital, still reeling from the shocks she has just received, and Kaden and Valyn have barely escaped with their lives, and are fleeing from the forces that continue to pursue them.
First, the good things: I enjoyed this book, I couldn’t wait to get back to it whenever I had to take breaks from it. The worldbuilding in this series is excellent – it has a long mythology/history, distinct cultures and empires, and the way magic and gods work is pretty cool. The plot moves along quickly, and revelations come in quick succession. There are some awesome action scenes too – I love the concept of the Kettral (which the author has described as a fantasy version of special forces strike teams).
However, I was irritated by a number of things, mostly to do with the characters. All three protagonists – Valyn, Adare, and Kaden – were incredibly reactionary and kept making major decisions about their future every time they were presented with new information, regardless of the source’s trustworthiness. I wasn’t ever sure what motivated them and what their ultimate goals were. To be fair, I think some of that was intentional – all three of them are very young and inexperienced, and think they have to save the world single-handedly, but it sometimes came off like an utter lack of conviction, which made it hard to root for or care about the outcome. Adare especially seemed like she just went with whichever way the wind was blowing, and felt vaguely guilty after it, but never grew from it.
I wasn’t too enthused about the gratuitous violence either – while I’m not the biggest fan of violence, it’s not a dealbreaker. The thing that bothered me was that all the protagonists killed innocent people, or allowed the murder of innocent people to be acceptable collateral in their plans. This is not inherently a bad thing, but all three siblings are convinced that they’re being nobler than the Csestriim they’re fighting, whose chief failing is that they do not value human life, and just see them as pawns.
I’m not sure if these are flaws, or intentional on the part of the author, though – the next book will tell me that. The series is otherwise pretty great, and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out.
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