Hi everyone, this is my review of The Providence of Fire – the second book in the Unhewn Throne trilogy.
No major spoilers, but events in The Emperor’s Blades are discussed.
The Providence of Fire is full of mythological retelling and philosophical debate. The very meaning of empire is brought into question. Should the empire still stand? Or should it fall? These are the questions put to the various characters throughout the novel. Many answers are given – but who is right?
Philosophical debate is certainly a strength of Brian Staveley. The first book in the trilogy had a lot of action, but there was enough different religious groups, gods, and fighting clans to lift the novel from your standard epic fantasy novel.
The second novel brings history and philosophy evermore to the forefront and the way it is weaved into the story is done really well. Initially, I did miss the action and training sequences, however once I realised what the author was doing I became very intrigued with the world he created. The prologue to The Emperor’s Blades suddenly became more relevant, and I can tell how much planning and foreshadowing has been going on – even from the very start of the series.
Another change with The Providence of Fire, is that there is a shift in the allocation of POV chapters. This changed the flow of the novel, but I very much enjoyed this.
In The Emperor’s Blades, Valyn was training to become a member of the Kettral, a fighting clan, loyal to the emperor. We had training scenes as well as a pretty horrific initiation test. This, followed by a certain betrayal and a frantic attempt to save his brother, meant that Valyn’s POV was the main one. He was the lead.
Adare, Valyn’s sister, had very few chapters, though they were full of court intrigue. Kaden, living at a shin monastery, was the one who had occassional philosophical discussions with his mentor about what it took to be king, and about what happened to the old Gods who fought with the humans hundreds of years ago. He had a lot of POV chapters, but it still always felt like Valyn was the central character.
This all changes in The Providence of Fire. The chapters are much more evenly dispersed amongst the siblings. Valyn’s training is at an end. The heavy action sequences from the first book falls away (for a while), and is replaced with more information about who is trying to destroy the empire and why.
Adare now has equal POV time with her brothers. She was manipulated in The Emperor’s Blades. She was spoilt and angry, but devoted to the memory of her father. In The Providence of Fire, we see what she is like when she is stripped of power. Is she always right? No. Is she always nice? No. But she was enjoyable to read. Strong women in fantasy can sometime be shoehorned into warriors and assassins. A Brienne or Arya is always very popular. Adare is not like either of these. Not physically strong, she uses the mental strength she possesses to move her story forward – and for me this was well crafted and made her interesting.
The thread about the wars of the old gods is bigger in this book too – not only for Kaden, but also for Adare. The questions and debates are now seen through new eyes, new characters. Old assumptions are quashed. In book one, it was thought the old gods were dead, but we find out that this is not true. Where are they then? Hiding? Or already walking amongst the humans?
The world is growing as we move about the Annurian Empire with the three siblings, but our knowledge of the worlds history, the old wars between the old gods, the arrival of the new gods, and how that has shaped the mortal race is explored more deeply.
The siblings grow too. Kaden is learning who to trust, how to rule, and what it takes to be king. Adare discovers life outside the palace. Valyn must work out when to be Kettral and when to be a brother.
I really enjoyed the direction The Providence of Fire took me – though no doubt some of the fun and mystery-solving of book one was absent. On this point, the first third of the book was a little slow. However once Kaden and Valyn split up, the pace quickened. The last quarter was really intense as a large battle and counter manoeuvres were set up. Fans of military strategy will enjoy this part particularly.
Another enjoyable point was the introduction of a new POV – and she has emerged as a new favourite. Gwenna is very cool. She’s tough but not cliche, and at times very funny. I’m hoping her voice continues on into The Last Mortal Bonds.
All in all, this was a great book.
I feel like too many new books come out with the familiar marketing tagline of ‘the new Game of Throne’ or ‘the new Lord of the Rings’.
This trilogy, however, seems to be a mixture of both these series. We have the court politics and religious sects of Game of Thrones, but a very deep mythology and history that is more reminiscent of Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.
For me, this merging of ideas worked really well and I’m really looking forward to reading The Last Mortal Bond.
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