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The Providence of Fire
by Brian Staveley
Tor, $27.99, 608pp
Published: January 2015

If The Emperor’s Blades was all about the importance of having a well-established form of long-distance communication in your fantasy world, its sequel, The Providence of Fire, is about the importance of stopping to deal with issues before going off half-cocked.

Not really. But it does get frustrating as a reader when major crises could be averted, as Nice Guy Eddie said in Reservoir Dogs, “with a fucking conversation”. But then the story wouldn’t have the glorious tension that Brian Staveley continues to build to epic proportions.

Note: spoilers for The Emperor’s Blades abound here.

The Providence of Fire picks up in the immediate aftermath of The Emperor’s Blades. The young emperor Kaden, and his black-eyed brother Valyn have escaped an assassination attempt at Kaden’s monastery and fled to the mountains, looking for a mystical gate that will allow them to transport to other locations throughout the Annurian Empire, including to the imperial palace in Annur. But they are being pursued by Valyn’s former commander, the relentless commando Flea.

Meanwhile their sister Adare has learned that she was tricked into murdering the high priest by her lover, the regent/general Il Tornja. All evidence points to a grand conspiracy by a shadow sect within the Annurian government, possibly lead by Il Tornja or the chief minister Tarik Adiv. But Adare has no news from her brothers (that lack of communication again!) and the only people she can turn to are the militant worshipers of Intarra, the goddess whose high priest she had executed.

Staveley masterfully moves the pieces on the grand chessboard in The Providence of Fire, continuing to build tension as the reader recognizes the right (or at least the better) course of action yet watches as the trio continue to make the wrong moves. The brothers are separated when the Flea confronts them, Kaden fleeing through a portal while Valyn battles his former commander as one of his party, the assassin Pyrre, breaks a Mexican stand-off by killing one of the Flea’s men.

Soon Adare is marching north with an army of religious fanatics, hailing her as a prophet, to confront Il Tornja; Kaden has ensconced himself in the Annurian capital in an attempt to remake the government of Annur; and Valyn and his soldiers are captured by the nomadic clans of neighboring Urghul. And each is being told a different story behind the greater political actions. Are the Urghul responding to the aggression of Il Tornja, or did Il Tornja assassinate the Emperor because he attempted to make peace with the Urghul? Are the amoral, immortal Cesstriim playing a long game for the benefit of humanity, or seeking to bring about its demise?

None of the protagonists in The Providence of Fire seem to have any idea of what is going on around them, or how they are being used by powers greater than themselves. And the reader doesn’t either. It’s confusing, but engrossing. Staveley sucks the reader in, even as he creates more plot convolutions and questions.

There’s no release from the tension yet, and even less positive plot resolutions. The bad guys (or those we think are bad guys) are still around, still causing mischief and the revelations of The Providence of Fire are only leading to more questions.

But it is a thrilling ride. Staveley continues to ratchet up the pressure, adding more POV changes (one problem with The Emperor’s Blades was the short shrift that Adare got), expanding the reach of the story and upping the ante as the struggle for the Unhewn Throne takes on greater spiritual implications.

Alas, I have another year’s wait for the finale. ~~ Michael Senft

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