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REVIEW : Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson


In a bad design choice, American edition of Rjurik Davidson's debut novel "Unwrapped Sky" prominently features a minotaur on its cover. There's nothing wrong with minotaurs as such and they certainly play a part in the story but the issue I have with the cover in question in that it sends a completely wrong impression about "Unwrapped Sky". In my opinion, Davidson's debut is completely removed from what you would usually expect from your bog standard high fantasy and instead occupies that undefinable place in literary fantasy that's more interested in the voyage than the quest. It is the kind of book that is, for the lack of better classification, often described as new weird or magical realism. You know the kind I'm talking about. China Mieville and Bulgakov instantly come to my mind as reference points. Even though Davidson is still not up to their level of craft, his poetic prose clearly shows that he has plenty of potential.

"Unwrapped Sky" revolves around Caeli-Amur, an ancient city on the brink of irreversible change. The governing power is continuously shifting between houses who between them control the livelihood of its citizens. They're House Technis who attract industrial workers, Hourse Arbor with farmers and House Marin with fishermen. The streets of Caeli-Amur are filled of intrigues and as we're introduced to Kata, n philosopher-assassin, she's in the middle of her latest scheme, getting rid of two minotaurs. Similar can be said about bureaucrat Boris Autec who is working for House Technis and whose ruthless rise through the ranks severely affects his private life and for Maximilan, a thaumaturgist scholar and a revolutionary who spends his life researching secrets of Great Library of Caeli Enas. As the Festival of the Sun is approaching minotaur are arriving to the city as well as an endless stream of refugees and mutants. All these are heralds of an inevitable change. Now it is only a matter of figuring out where the pendulum will drop.

What made "Unwrapped Sky" instantly appealing to me is its strangeness. It is not often that you feel like you are reading something completely new and unique and this was definitely one of those increasingly rare cases. It's just bizarre but never in a way that pushed me away. Over the course of the story Davidson manages to control the amount of weird and knows when and how to stop. I was surprised by how much I've enjoyed this grim and poetic tale and I'm already looking forward to the sequel despite that being the biggest issue I had with it. At the end it is rather open ended. And yes, UK edition got their cover right with their atmospheric depiction of deep waters. It is much more indicative of the book - there's much more under the surface of "Unwrapped Sky" than it is evident at first glance.

Review copy provided by Pan / Tor UK.
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REVIEW : The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson


Fantasy powerhouse, Brandon Sanderson, is back once again, this time with "The Rithmatist", one of his most interesting novels yet. To put it bluntly, due to use of illustrations by Ben McSweeney as an integral part of the plot, "The Rithmatist" is quite unlike anything Sanderson has produced so far but have no fear, it bears all the things that usually characterize his writing - approachability, madcap but logical magic system, fast paced adventure and that familiar sense of excitement that he so easily provokes in readers.

"The Rithmatist" is set in a school for magically gifted children, Armedius Academy, and as we're introduced to Joel he's not in a great position. He's frustrated because he's obsessed with the magic of Rithmatics but simply doesn't have a necessary gift. Unfazed by the fact and powered by childlike enthusiasm he forces Professor Fitch to introduce his to the concept. While he still can't use its elements (looking like fascinating chalk figures), at least Joel understands their workings. Suddenly, a series of kidnappings casts a dark cloud over the school. Someone is kidnapping and killing all the top Rithmatist student and Joel, thanks to his unique position, can investigate the situation without feeling like a target himself. Together with a Rithmatist apprentice Melody, he's soon racing against the time to stop the killer as more and more students disappear. Joel sees the this challenge as something more than murder investigation. For him it is also a way to prove himself to Rithmatist crowd but as times passes by he grows up and realises that there are far more important things than being accepted. This realisation changes something else in him but you'll have to read the book to find out more.

"The Rithmatist" is a novel aimed at readers of all ages so, admittedly, some of the character depth is sacrificed for the simplicity but on the other hands you can enjoy reading it together with your children. Perhaps they'll catch the bug and in a few years they'll start reading Mistborn. Another great thing about it that Sanderson cleverly avoid the whole teenage romance issue. It's almost impossibly refreshing once you realise that its missing from the plot. In the end, however old you are, as soon as you get your hear around his latest magic system this turns into a bloody great adventure story. Best thing about it that, in true Sanderson fashion, this is just a beginning of a series - there's a sequel planned for 2017, tentatively called "The Aztlanian". When does that man sleep?

Review copy provided by Pan / Tor UK.
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The story behind Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson

Like most books, Unwrapped Sky emerged as a combination of influences. In Unwrapped Sky, I pictured the city of Caeli-Amur as inhabiting the space between about 1870 and 1920. It’s a modern world, but it’s also a world that is in our past. There are factories, modern political movements, a kind of state capitalism run by three bureaucratic houses, an avant-garde art scene, and philosophical meetings within cafes and tiny bars. All of this is infused with an essence of Greek and Roman myth. Wandering among the dirty industrial alleyways are Minotaurs and Sirens: I still find that image exciting. What did I draw on to construct this? Half remembered images from myth and historical reading. There are those who have claimed Unwrapped Sky is a kind-of Marxist or anarchist novel, but I think it’s perhaps better thought of as a historical novel recast into fantasy. The world of Caeli-Amur is nothing like modern post-industrial capitalism. So my interests in ancient society and the revolutionary historical period around the turn of the 20th century are pretty obvious. It’s a genre bending work, influenced by Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection. Writer Mark Lawrence has correctly detected a touch of the Russians – Chekov and Tolstoy – in its structure and concerns. Philosophically it’s close to the existentialism of Sartre and de Beauvoir, and a friend of mine has summarised the book as ‘Les Misérables with minotaurs.’ I’ve written about these influences in Finding Unwrapped Sky.

But what about the actual writing of the book? How did that come about? At first, the novel was going to be a great deal simpler. It was going to tell the story of Kata, the philosopher-assassin, hired to infiltrate the seditionist movement in Caeli-Amur. It was going to examine her ethical and moral conflicts in the context of an upcoming revolt. But around that time I was reading a lot of the realist writers – Tolstoy comes to mind – and I came to realise that if you wanted to depict a major social event, in this case a revolution, it was useful to have multiple points-of-view. In this way, you can show the different social groups from the inside: how they think and act, the way their views conflict with each other, the way they perceive events differently. You can depict the society as a whole. So to Kata’s narrative, I added the story of a rising bureaucrat in House Technis, the most modern of the Houses that rule the city, and the story of the seditionist and thaumaturgist, who wants to lead the coming upsurge. This way of using multiple points of view really does come from the realist writers of the 19th Century and the benefits are apparent. I wanted my book to be rich and dense and repay multiple readings. It also allows you to identify (if not sympathise) with characters whose goals directly clash – someone is going to lose out, but who?

By adding two more characters, the technical challenges increased exponentially. To begin with, I had to plot out three independent character arcs that needed to intertwine across the length of the story. This meant that the arcs had to match temporally: they had to, theoretically at least, all resolve close to the end of the novel. It required an entirely different level of planning to a single point-of-view novel. It required a detailed calendar, which needed to be both flexible (so narratives could change) and logical (one doesn’t simply walk a hundred miles in a day.)

Secondly, a great deal of world building needed to be done. Not only did I need to build personal histories for my three main characters – and for all the minor characters who populate the book – but I had to construct a history of the world of Caeli-Amur. To write about a revolution is also to write about history in any case. I had to explain how the world was moving from one stage to another. That means I needed to have a sense of that history’s driving forces: why and how does society change and shift? Was the history essentially a movement of progress or (like in Tolkien) a slow fall? Was Caeli-Amur’s history likely to follow the path of our world’s: from antiquity, through feudalism, to industrial capitalism? Or was its history more contingent than that, able to move through all kinds of social structures?

To accompany its historical elements, I injected one which was purely imaginative. Like Tolkien, I presupposed a lost ancient world. Unlike Tolkien, I suggested that this world — the world of the Ancients — was an advanced civilization, a utopia, ruined by an apocalypse. The remains of its sophisticated technology lie scattered throughout the world, mysterious and incomprehensible. Hence the world has gone through a devolution — a dark age — but by the start of the novel it is beginning to drag itself back up into industry. In this way Unwrapped Sky retains that sense of melancholy loss that so moves us in Tolkien, but jettisons the conservative shell. Hopefully it speaks in some way to our own losses — to the destruction of the environment, to the losses of many cultures and languages of the world, to the sense that things have somehow come apart. Caeli-Amur also has a future, and its story is a story of social change — the movement from that bureaucratic capitalism to something else, perhaps. That future will be told in Unwrapped Sky’s sequel, The Stars Askew.

Rjurik Davidson
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REVIEW : Farlander by Col Buchanan


One of the best things about being a reviewer for a literary magazine is that you'll continuously be in a position to discover new and exciting authors. The thing is that there's an impossible amount of books out there so it's often hard to commit yourself to works of someone new, especially if it is a series and there's plenty of familiar authors to read. There's simply limited amount of time in life so what you quickly learn to do is to trust editor's recommendations when it comes to new stuff. Over the years Col Buchanan's works were highlighted to me from more than a few people whose taste in book I respect immensely so when a chance came to review the entire trilogy I was absolutely thrilled. “The Black Dream”, third novel in the series is coming out on 12th March but let's start at the very beginning - with “Farlander”.

Buchanan's debut introduces us to Ash, world weary and ailing assassin whose career is nearing its end. But just not yet. From the streets of Bar-Khos he takes on an apprentice called Nico. Bar-Khos is a city under siege by the Holy Empire of Mann and even ten years later the conflict is nowhere near resolution. Ash and Nico embark to reach Sato, monastery hidden in the Cheem mountains which serves as a seat for a shadowy order of assassins who provide insurance for their clients – Roshun. When a woman protected by Roshun is murdered by Holy Empire of Mann 's leader Holy Matriarch's son, Roshun's wheels are fast in motion and soon Ash and Nico are after the revenge. Contact must be fulfilled. This interesting premise powers the plot and while it is blatantly obvious that sequels were intended to follow “Farlander”, Buchanan has done a fine job of keeping his plot tight and gripping.

Published in 2011, “Farlander” announced the arrival of Buchanan with a blast. It wasn't so much that Buchanan's worldbuilding was particularly inventive but it was everything else that made his debut so interesting. Let me explain. Superficially, “Farlander” is a familiar tale told countless times before, both in literature and films - that eternal conflict between good and evil set in a pseudo-historical setting upon which the fantasy as a genre is built upon. The main character is a stereotype and there's steampunk elements such as air-ships that were very trendy at the time. However, what sets Buchanan apart from the crowd is his instant readability and writing skill. In his hands, what once seemed ordinary soon becomes a class on its own. I stormed through “Farlander” and had a whale of a time. Great debut from a promising writer. On to “Stands a Shadow” now!

Review copy provided by Tor UK
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REVIEW : Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Following up a series as accomplished as "Shadows of the Apt" with a book like "Guns of the Dawn" is a gutsy move, especially when you consider how universally loved the former was. It must have been temping to stay with the tried and tested formula that reliably produces results but Tchaikovsky is certainly not an author who plays it safe. Remember, this is a man who based his ten-book long fantasy series on insects-like creatures and somehow pulled it off in a grand style. So while initially "Guns of the Dawn" might raise a few eyebrows but you'll quickly realise that he perfectly well knows what he's doing here - this is all good stuff .

For most of its parts "Guns of the Dawn" doesn't feel like high fantasy at all but occupies that shady shelf of pseudo-histories where everything is familiar and yet somehow strange (to mention few of the newcomers, Aidan Harte's The Wave Trilogy and Den Patrick's Erebus Sequence come to mind). The story, loosely set in technological and social level of Napoleonic times, kicks off by Denlanders murdering Lascanne's king and invading them as if that wasn't enough. The two nations have been allies for as long as anyone can remember but those days are long gone and prolonged conflict is taking its toll on its people. Now the time has come for women to go to war and Emily Marshwic is called up to join the ranks. She has no illusions about where she's going. She already lost her brother and brother-in-low so the ruthless brutality doesn't come as a surprise. The only way to stay sane is to detach herself from reality. As its often the case she realises that nothing is strictly black and white in this conflict and even her own Lascanne has a lot to answer for. This forms a turning point in Emily's mind and I can only invite you to find out what happens next.

Despite not being "Shadows of the Apt" novel "Guns of the Dawn" comes with many recognizable qualities. The ability to tackle huge, brutal and unfair conflicts is still there in all its glory and be it insects or people, Tchaikovsky still knows how to write a tale about small people facing insurmountable obstacles. As a book "Guns of the Dawn" is absolutely massive - it's over 700 pages longs and weights a ton - and yet, I felt like a wanted it to be longer. That's the beauty of it all - knowing how to leave reader gasping for more. The thing is "Guns of the Dawn" comes without the burden of long winded series on its back and its conventions to follow so it is certainly a much easier and lighthearted read despite its length. To conclude, "Guns of the Dawn" finds Tchaikovsky at his invigorated best proving once more that he's anything but a one trick pony. He's obviously got plenty more stories to tell and be it "Shadows of the Apt" or something unrecognizable and new, I know I'll be waiting impatiently to read them.

Review copy provided by Tor UK
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The story behind Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mantids and Musketry – from Shadows of the Apt to Guns of the Dawn

Having a long, long series come to an end is a weird and uncomfortable position for a writer to be in. I love the insect-kinden and their stories – I’m writing more of them even now, short pieces and the like, with more long-fiction planned for future times as yet uncertain. At the same time, though, you do begin to build up a head of steam to do something different – just because you’re deep in a series doesn’t stop those other ideas from coming.

And then one morning you open your eyes and the end of the last book is on the horizon, scuttling closer as you watch, and you realise, This is it; the Promised Times have come, when I step out of this chitin-adorned house and walk in the open air. And now I’m making it sound like The Count of Monte Cristo or something, and that’s doing the insect-kinden a terrible injustice. But the fact remains that I wanted to tell other stories as well as theirs. I had ideas that simply wouldn’t work as kinden plots.

And then you get to the threshold, new manuscript clutched fondly in your arms, and it’s a bit like being housebound for years and discovering on the point of exit that you’ve been an agoraphobic all that time, because that’s a big old step to take. A ten book series can be a very comfortable place, very lived-in and familiar. It’s a hard thing to leave behind, even only temporarily.

Guns of the Dawn is set in a very different world to that of Shadows of the Apt (1). It’s a less overtly fantastical world, and one more precisely located in real world history. Or as much as I ever do, because it’s still entirely fictional – you can see that I’m drawing strongly on Regency/Napoleonic ideas and tropes, but the nations are my own, as are the fireball-throwing magicians and the non-human races and… well, you can take the writer out of the high fantasy setting, but you can’t take the high fantasy out of the… well, you know.

So I didn’t actually sit down and decide “I shall make a corpus of work, so that future academics may talk about ‘Tchaikovskian’ themes,” (2) but during the edits what struck me was that there are definitely some carry-over themes that I wasn’t done exploring in Shadows of the Apt (3). The central dichotomy of the kinden – their Aptness or lack of it – is very much there in Guns, which is equally concerned with an ongoing clash between old and new. There were two sibling monarchies, you see, Denland and Lascanne, and then the Denlanders rose up and murdered their king and declared a republic. And then they turned their eyes on their royalist neighbour and brought war to them because – or so the Lascanne papers say – the presence of a happy, healthy monarchy next door was anathema to their philosophy. This is complicated by the fact that, in this world, ‘divine right of kings’ has magical backing. The King of Lascanne is able to anoint select young noblemen to remake them as warlocks, magicians of awe-inspiring power. And yet, despite that, the (magic-less) Denlanders keep on coming, and no matter what the papers say, they’re showing no signs of slowing down. The old traditions of Lascanne, its stratified class system and its magic, are being put through the ringer, until gentlewoman Emily Marshwic must take up the musket and go defend her home and family…

The setting is different, but the ideas being played out certainly echo the struggles of the insect-kinden. If you have a good enough gun, what is left for magic? The same question could be asked as easily by Totho the artificer or by Giles Scavian, the new-minted King’s wizard, the one triumphant in his engineering, the other despairing for a way of life lost.

(1)  Guns and Shadows is definitely my new band name.

(2)  In the very unlikely event that academics have anything to say about me, it’s likely to be along the lines of “Wasn’t he that crazy guy with all the spiders.” I mean, there are giant spiders in Guns of the Dawn. Maybe not very giant, by the standards of the insect-kinden, but still pretty big for spiders. And big dragonflies, and leeches, and… it’s as if the insect-kinden have been infiltrating the book all the time I was writing it.

(3)        The timeline’s a bit complex, as the original Guns MS was finished before Empire, and then extensively rewritten after, so it’s a bit chicken and egg.

Adrian Tchaikovsky
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REVIEW : Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher

"Dark Intelligence" is Neal Asher's long awaited comeback to Polity universe and is something of a blinder. To be honest, I desperately wanted it to be great so I'm pretty chuffed that it really is. Long gone are the days when authors were just a name on the cover. Today we, as readers, are often treated to insights about their private lives, their real-life views, interests and passions. In my opinion we're better for it because often you learn to appreciate the authors for what they are and not just because they're, well, such talented writers. So through social media I was aware that Neal had an extremely tough year behind him and I can't even imagine how hard it must've been writing "Dark Intelligence". And yet, contrary to his previous very bleak Owner trilogy, his new one somehow feels carefree and effortless. It brings together all the best bits of the Polity universe while at the same time providing an excellent entry point to newcomers. It's simply a damn good book.

"Dark Intelligence" is story of Thorval Spear, who after dying a century ago in a war between humans and aliens is brought back to life. Upon wakening he learns that an artificial intelligence within rescue ship that should have saved them back then has in fact turned psychotic and killed everyone. For Speak hundred years passed in a blink of an eye and since said AI, called Penny Royal, is still rampaging around, he decides to have his revenge. On the other hand, Isobel Satomi has issues on her own with Penny Royal. A while ago she entered into an unholy alliance with her to stop her crime syndicate to fall into ruin, only to later discover that AI tricked her. She's evolving into a deadly machine that's any day now threatening to completely take over. So the time is running out for both Spear and Isobel. Will he be able to find Penny Royal before Isobel turns completely against him?

It is this feeble balance that powers "Dark Intelligence". Spear and Isobel are perpetually on the knife's edge, and this constant tension works wonders for creating a page-turning atmosphere. It's a damningly gripping and infecting book so prepare yourself for a complete shut down from the world. However, do be prepared for a sudden come down because "Dark Intelligence" is only the first part of the proposed trilogy. Still, by now Neal has fine-tuned his art of writing trilogies down to perfection so for most of its parts "Dark Intelligence" feel like a standalone novel with just enough threads left loose to make you impatiently wait for the sequel. So come 29th, make your way to your local book store and grab yourself a copy - science fiction simply doesn't get better than this.

Review copy provided by Pan / Tor UK
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REVIEW : Endsinger by Jay Kristoff

Readers in the future will be in something of a pickle when it comes to reading “The Lotus War” trilogy. The thing is that all three books in a series present their author in a different stages of development so while “Stormdancer” initially felt like a great book, compared to “Endsinger” it sometimes feels like mere dabbling. In a way, it is like comparing first and last Harry Potter book. As such, Endsinger is more bold, more inventive and more emotionally charged than its predecessor and nowhere is this more evident than in its ending which will leave you gasping for air. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

As you would imagine, “Endsinger” continues the story and finds Shima Imperium in the grips of civil war. Lotus Guild is using mechanical goliath to spread terror and hopefully bring peace through fear and oppression. Standing in their way are Yukiko and Buruu who are still reeling in the aftermath of Kin's betrayal. Against all odds, they still have to fight because surrendering is simply unthinkable and as the ending marches towards us, all of the big questions are slowly revealed but not in a way you would expect. There's plenty of epic battles and glorious mayhem in these pages but luckily the chaos never completely overwhelms. Kristoff is not big on happy endings and perfectly understands the brutality of war. In “Endsinger”, as in real life war, there are no winners, just different layers of loss. Many will shed a tear upon closing a book.

“Endsinger” is a proper full stop to “The Lotus War” trilogy and apart for occasional novella or short story which I'll always happily read, I don't think anything else needs to be added. It is a book that truly shows the capabilities and potential of Kristoff as an author as well as one of those trilogies where the ending pays off with dividends and respects all the time you've spent reading the story leading up to it. Once you're done, you'll probably feel sad and heavy hearted but that's the beauty of it - Kristoff simply decided to fail to compromise and as a result made a perfect ending. Well done, sir.

Review copy provided by Pan Macmillan / Tor UK
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The story behind The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

Reflections of a Snake Wrestler

Writing the first book in an epic fantasy trilogy is like wrestling a giant snake. Writing the second book in an epic fantasy trilogy is like wrestling a giant snake with your hands tied together while people throw money, confetti, and shit at you and you’re also trying to find your way out of the snake-filled swamp before a loudly ticking bomb blows you and the snake into tiny pieces of chum.

Perhaps I should explain.

Writing The Emperor’s Blades was hard for me – snake-wrestling hard. If I got ahold of the beginning, I’d lose track of the end. When I was trying to keep from getting bitten, I got tangled up in the coils. I wasn’t able to hold 500 pages of characters, plot, setting, and backstory in my head all at the same time, and every time I let go of something, something else shifted. That said, there wasn’t really much to concentrate on but the wrestling itself. I had no contract, so I had no deadline. I had no book, so I had no readers or critics. It was a simple fight, if exhausting.

I was warned by both my agent and my editor that book two would be different, but I thought, Nah – I’m a snake wrestler now. A very, very stupid snake wrestler, as it turned out.

For one thing, when it came to The Providence of Fire, my hands were tied by every decision I’d made in the first book, no matter how small. If I’d been writing a single-volume story, I could tinker with the start even as I was working on the end – set up a reveal differently, or change a backstory. Once that first book was in print, however, there was no more tinkering. For example, I would have really liked to move a river a hundred miles to the north to facilitate a plot point. No dice! The map was published with the first book. And there were literally hundreds of tiny issues like this. It’s tough wrestling a snake when you can’t use all your moves.

And then there’s the fact that people were actually responding to the first book. I learned early on to stop reading reviews, but it’s impossible to avoid the echo chamber entirely, impossible to not know there are a lot of people who love the story and a few who hate it and that they’re all peering over your shoulder while you wrestle that second snake, wondering if you’re going to fuck it up.

Even worse, the third book was coming up. Not just the third book, the final book. It’s not enough to write a compelling second book – you’ve got to make damned sure it’s setting you up for the conclusion, especially having learned the hard lesson that there are no take-backs once a book goes to press.

And, of course, there was a deadline. I took seven years (on and off) to write The Emperor’s Blades. I wrote The Providence of Fire in seven months, and it’s twenty-five percent longer. I pride myself on being a person who gets his chores done early, but I handed this book in a whisker before 5 PM on the day it was due.

It was tempting, when the battle was finally finished, to stand up, beat my chest, howl at the moon, but I could already see, moving toward me just below the rippling surface of the water, the great sinuous form of that third snake, the last one, the biggest, meanest, smartest one. So while you’re all enjoying The Providence of Fire, I’ll be over here in the swamp fighting it out again, trying to breathe, trying not to get bitten… and loving every second of it. After all, it’s not everyone who gets to wrestle giant snakes by moonlight for a living.

Brian Staveley
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REVIEW : The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

There's no denying the fact that I was embarrassingly gushing about Brian Staveley's debut "The Emperor's Blades". It was one of those rare moments in my reading life when a book surprised me so much that I was even willing to forget and forgive its failings. So you might say that I was impatiently waiting for "The Providence of Fire". Surely, Staveley can't be a one trick pony? Well, of course he's not! While "The Providence of Fire" is not as Earth-shattering revelatory as "The Emperor's Blades" was, it still provides all the elements that made his debut so great in the first place. More crucially, it firmly addresses some of the issues I had with the first novel (mainly gender inequality) so thinking about it, it might be even a better book that its predecessor. But let's not dwell on that at this point and concentrate on the story itself. 

Being second part of the ongoing "Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne" series, "The Providence of Fire" is instantly immersive experience. Story continues straight on from the events depicted at the previous volume and at this point in time, Annurian Empire is a familiar place thrown in the chaos after the assassination of Emperor Sanlitun. Kaden and Valyn are still struggling to cope with their new responsibilities and the realisation that suddenly so many thing rest on their shoulders is weighting heavily on their mings. Kaden with throne and Valyn with Wings - its simply not easy and at one point Valyn simply leaves. However, this time around it is Adere who takes the centerstage. Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, she's trying forge new alliances and turn the tide that threatens to effectively destroy everything she loves. It is her perspective that makes "The Providence of Fire" outstanding. While in "The Empreror's Blades" she was depicted as uninteresting and was largely ignored, here her story comes to light. It's like the disturbing events of the past made her get her act together. Betrayal at the behest of certain someone certainly helped this. Suddenly, she's subversive, intriguing and more organised than ever before. Despite everything she is sadly still not as strong protagonist as she could be and at few times her old insecurities reel their ugly head again. For what it's worth I'm extremely happy that Brian tackled her side of the story. However, the most impressive thing is the way Steveley manipulates the relationship between siblings. While their lives take a distinctively different path together they still feel as a cohesive whole, with their hearts at its right place.

Due to his willingness to embrace those few shortcomings "The Emperor's Blades" had and to improve upon them, and thanks to his ongoing development as a writer, "The Providence of Fire" completely fulfills my very high expectations. As I've mentioned before, while it is certainly not a revolutionary novel it is more importantly a damn good continuation of the story. And not to forget, everything somehow feels more epic, if that makes any sense at all. It'll be interesting seeing where the series goes next. When I consider the ease with which I'm reading and enjoying Staveley's door-stoppers, it'll be a long wait until the sequel arrives.

Review copy provided by Pan / Tor UK
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