Anyone who regularly reads my reviews will have gathered by now that epic fantasy isn’t necessarily my favourite sub-genre. Having said that, I’ve read some impressive examples so far this year, such as Elspeth Cooper’s Wild Hunt series – see my review of Songs of the Earth here – and another gem is The Unhewn Throne, see my review of the first book, The Emperor’s Blades here.
The Annurian Empire’s ruling family must be vigilant as the conspiracy against them deepens. Having discovered her father’s assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies. But few trust her until she seems marked by the people’s goddess in an ordeal of flame. Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn has fallen in with forces mustering at the empire’s borders. The terrible choices they face could make war between them inevitable. Fighting his own battles is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the capital with two strange companions.
As you may have gathered from the blurb, the story is told in third person pov by each of the orphaned siblings struggling to survive in an extremely hostile environment, while trying to gauge the level of threat against their family. And it works. The limited main characters keep the focus tight and the narrative constantly moving forward. Each of the siblings are shaped by their very different training and are forced into a series of difficult decisions.
The characterisation is wonderful – I love the fact that this epic fantasy is completely driven by Adare, Valyn and Kaden and their mistakes, their successes and talents. I also very much enjoy how the backstory to this empire slowly unfolds through their adventures, rather than the pages of exposition describing the gods and ancient, powerful beings that are once more stirring… Instead Kaden and Adare find themselves confronted by these characters. It gives this series an immediacy and punchiness that I often find missing in epic fantasy.
I really enjoyed The Emperor’s Blades and worried that The Providence of Fire wouldn’t be able to sustain the same narrative tension, the constant stream of surprises and steady unfolding of information about the characters, their family history and the nature of the empire they are trying to hold together. Be warned, though, this adventure is more than a little blood-drenched. Of course, if you are a fan of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, then you probably won’t even blink. Other than that warning, I highly recommend this series and am eagerly waiting for the next instalment, while hoping Staveley writes fast…