Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

Title: Providence of Fire
Author: Brian Staveley
Series: Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne, Book 2
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: 13 January 2015

The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.

Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, renegade member of the empire's most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.

Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

I finished this book several hours ago. I feel sure that if I were to wait another year I still wouldn't have the words necessary to begin to do it justice. I struggled with the review for The Emperor's Blades, partly because fantasy is my home in genre reading, but mostly because I had no idea how my mere words could stand up to the beauty and majesty that was created by Brian Staveley. I face a similar, or worse, problem now. In The Emperor's Blades I fell in love with the Malkeenians and their world. I walked with them every step of their struggle, journey, surprise, and betrayal. In Providence of Fire I was taken several (hundred) steps further.

We see so much more of the wide world in this book, so much more of the tapestry is filled in. The travels of our main characters take us to the far reaches of the kingdom, and beyond. Every step taught us something new about the world, and about the people in it. I always had such a beautiful sense of place while reading. I could see the steppes, feel the heat from the Everburning Well, taste the glacial water, the smell of smoke wafted to my nose as I read. Every single word, description and scene pulled me further in and immersed me.

As I traveled with the characters I've grown to love so much, I was present as they faced impossible odds, terrifying obstacles, and painful decisions, along with the occasional glorious victory. I can't say much about the actual journey that is taken, the twists and turns, the compelling cases presented. Suffice it to say that I was on the edge of my seat, never sure what to believe, never sure who - if anyone - I could trust. I began repeating a litany to myself of 'Trust No One'. I'm not sure, even now, if I've been fooled once, twice, or many, many times. I have theories on top of theories, speculations that I can barely piece together, and hopes - oh so many hopes - for the third book, for everyone in these pages that has come to mean so much to me.

And there are so many characters I'm invested in. Valyn, Kaden, and Adare continue to be the primary POV characters; the ones that we're following on this mission to save the empire, their family, and their people. As I rushed through the pages of this book I was surprised - though I'm not sure why - at how much I was invested in all three of them. Though I fretted every time I left one, I was immediately anxious to see what was going on with the next. I struggled next to these three as they made decisions that weren't simply between 'right' and 'wrong' but between 'wrong' and 'less-wrong'. Sometimes there was no good answer. There's a quote in the book that I think encapsulates everything all three struggle with:

It had been a long time since he'd felt as though he had a true choice...each decision looked like the wrong one now, but at the time they hadn't seemed like decisions at all. Instead of contemplating a series of forking paths, [he] felt as though he'd been racing a treacherous track, just a half step ahead of his foes, no time to look either back or forward.

It's not just the Malkeenians, but people on all sides of the conflict that have difficult choices to make. Even when I railed against some of the decisions made, I understood why they were being made. It seems a long time since I've been able to say that there are at least a dozen additional characters that I'm truly invested in. Pyrre, Rampuri Tan, Ran il Tornja, Triste, Gwenna, Talal, Laith, Annick and a few new ones that I won't name and risk spoiling anyone's surprise. Each of them has found a place in - if not my heart, then my mind. I can't stop thinking about all of them.

Brian Staveley weaves beauty with his words, ensnaring the senses and filling the surrounding air with the world he's created. I'm in awe of his ability and I look forward to everything to come in his career. Most especially, right now, the third book in the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series.

Grade: A+

Now. I think I'm off to re-read The Emperor's Blades and then Providence of Fire, again.

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