Brian Staveley’s debut novel, ‘The Emperor’s Blades’, left me feeling absolutely turned around – at once I was in love with the story and the idea, but I felt that the writing left something to be desired. Nevertheless, I was excited for the release of the sequel, and ‘The Providence of Fire’ finally made it to my doorstep.
And again I have mixed feelings.
I judge myself an experienced and fair reviewer – many people have criticised me for what appear to be too many 7s, 8s, 9s, and 10s, but that’s just because I choose well, and rarely find myself willingly choosing to read the mediocre books that have so flooded the market these days. However, when reading books like The Providence of Fire, I hesitate to write an honest review – I feel as if I must be missing something.
The last two-thirds of the book are definitely better than the somewhat disoriented and waylaid first-third. I felt as if this first-third was stretched, much like Bilbo – “like butter scraped over too much bread.” Characters are indistinct, and everything seems quite forced.
I would pinpoint the end of the first-third when Kaden and Valyn split up, but this distinction also heralds the beginning of one of my pet-hates – the ‘wrong assumptions’ contrivance forced upon characters by the author. For the rest of the book, each of the three main characters keep making wrong assumptions – sometimes ridiculously so – to carry the story along as the author intended.
By the time each of the three siblings has committed themselves to their paths, they have made bad choice after bad choice, and in many cases the author’s hand is clearly visible. And while I don’t believe I received a proof-copy (there is certainly no mention of it being a pre-published proof), the number of blatant grammatical errors was quite disconcerting.
Regardless, behind what I believe to be authorial mistakes lies a story and imagination that is quite impressive. The political intrigue created by these assumptions – which, if handled with a touch more subtlety, would have immediately affected the quality of the book – is brilliant. Long-held racial assumptions are put to the test, and the reader gets the feeling that very few of the characters – aged, wise, and human all – are legitimately entitled to their prejudices. The reveals throughout the last-third concerning the Csestriim are specifically fascinating, and I love reading characters who are just plain wrong – even more, I love reading characters who, by my own reading prejudices, I assumed held inherently accurate assumptions.
In the end, The Providence of Fire showed the author’s growth as a writer, however there is still more growth to come. It was a bit of a tough read, and I read an entire-other book during a moment of desperation, but in the end, I enjoyed the story and am very much looking forward to reading the continuing adventures of this somewhat dysfunctional family.
Review by Joshua S Hill
The Emperor's Blades
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The emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But [...]
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