Adare has learned the identity of her father’s killer, and escapes the Dawn Palace to try and cook up a scheme to take him down. Kaden has survived the treacherous attack in the mountains, and managed to find his way to the capital. But all is not well, and when he finds out his sister has declared herself Emperor, Kaden suspects she is in league with their father’s killer and realises that he needs to find another way to defeat them. Meanwhile, Valyn is still trying to find a way back into Annur, to try and help Kaden claim his rightful place as Emperor, while also figuring out just what the hell their sister is up to.
The second book in a trilogy is a tricky thing. The characters and main arc has been set up, so the book has to get on with the action. But since the conclusion is held till the third entry, there can be no proper resolution either. The book, then, has to carry on with the story, move the plot forward, keep readers interested, answer just enough questions to satiate readers’ curiosity, while still holding enough in check for the last book. And do it all well.
Like I said, tricky. But Staveley handles it pretty well here. Sure, Providence still suffers from some of the usual hurdles of “middle book syndrome” but the author tackles it successfully, for the most part. The main characters encounter some surprising revelations, and are shown to have grown (a little). Adare still does some stupid things, but so does Valyn, so at least it’s not a sexist thing. Gods and immortal beings are getting involved, but are their motives as altruistic as they claim? Only time and some more excellent narration from Simon Vance will tell.
The book is not without flaws. As I mentioned, the characters do some pretty dumb things, mainly in terms of trusting people they obviously shouldn’t. And a lot of the characters seem to have the temperament of an 11-year-old. I get that people get frustrated and exasperated, but once you’re an adult, you’re expected to have some level of control over your emotions, rather than snapping, swearing and yelling at people at the drop of a dime.
And then there is something… odd. Staveley has a bad habit of falling in love with certain phrases and then repeating them endlessly. In the first book, it was his made-up swear, “Kent-kissing.” (Why this phrase was needed, when there is plenty of actual swearing, is another discussion.) In this book, it’s the turn of, “she/he didn’t show it.” Apparently, Brian Staveley really wants us to know that the characters in the book do not show emotion or betray their thoughts. They really, really don’t.
If Kaden was angry, he didn’t show it. If Adare was scared, she didn’t show it. If Valyn was surprised, he didn’t show it. If she was in pain, she didn’t show it. If he was guilty over his actions, he didn’t show it. If John knew how to correctly soft-boil an egg, he didn’t show it.
I get that you want to show a character exhibiting control, but this phrase is noticeable enough that it stands out when overused. And overused it is. I’m surprised; I expect such things from a self-published author, perhaps, if only because you don’t always notice your own little habits, so these repetitions escaping an author’s own self-review is understandable. But this is a professionally published book, and I’m just really surprised it managed to go through layers of editing and review and whatever else happens in the publishing cycle without anyone pointing it out. It’s not hard to miss when the phrase is used nearly every single chapter.
But that is a relatively minor niggle. The book does a good job of showing us that this supposed scheme for the Unhewn Throne is, in fact, far larger an the stakes are much higher than an Emperor’s fancy couch. There are plenty of hardships for our friends to go through, and deaths, and the book also now sets up at least two secondary villains.
There is also some repetition of themes.
For instance, in the first book we learn that Ran il Tornja, the ‘kenarang’ (or head of the military), was the one who killed the Emperor. In this book, when Adare finally confronts him about it, he admits to the deed but convinces her that he had really good reasons. That, in fact, there is something more going on that she doesn’t understand, and that he is not who she thinks she is. That he isn’t, after all, a bad guy. She believes him.
Meanwhile, Valyn is captured by and meets with Long Fist, the leader of the barbaric Urghul warrior-tribe, who similarly convinces Valyn that the Urghul are not a threat to the Annurians, that Long Fist and the Emperor would even frequently meet and discuss plans for peaceful co-existence. They are not, after all, bad guys. And Valyn believes him.
This follows on from the repetition in the first book, with Kaden’s and Valyn’s training both echoing each other in terms of unnecessary brutality, tough-love, and being surrounded by a group of people who somehow don’t care that this kid they’re beating up and punishing is a prince and the Emperor’s son.
But while the above is genuine criticism, and things that Staveley should work on improving in the future, the writing generally is quite good. If some déjà vu sub-plots and repetitive phrasing affected my enjoyment of the book, I didn’t show it.
I’ll give it a 4 out of 5.