My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m not sure whether I’ve used this analogy already but permit me exorcise its ghost one jolly good time. Like lots of guys into anime, I watched the spectacularly thrilling Last Air Bender and it was total Bliss! It came as no surprise that when I got wind of a movie adaptation in the works, I was beside myself with Glee. Must I remind you, that’s around the time Avatar, the sci-fi mega Blockbuster see in the otherworldly Pandora hit the cinemas. A momentary disappointment was cast aside as I watched Avatar with disbelief at the magic of it all.
You must be wondering when I’ll bloody get to the meat of this story. Well, here it is: When the Last Air Bender finally came, it was a colossal disappointment. It was complete torture watching the benders rouse the elements to do their bidding. The stance and movements did not convincingly correlate with the fire/air/water/earth. It was a painful constipated wait where in the anime, the elements cooperated in real time.
Anyway, reading The Providence of Fire feel a lot like that to me. Such a marvelous tale set in a breathtaking universe, only for the delivery to colossal underwhelm.
Here’s a rundown. The second book in the series picks off from where we left things in book one. The emperor, Sanlitun is dead, murdered and his children, Adare, Kaden and Valyn are left to pick up the pieces and patch up the tears in Annur.
Valyn, following a mad dash with his Wing of Kettral from the Eyrie has managed to save the monkish Kaden, now the emperor, from an assassination by his own Aedolian guard and a renegade Kettral Wing. This is all well and good and rather a good way to start a story. There’s treachery at the highest levels in Annur and somebody has to get to the bottom of it. The Kennarang il Tornja is sounding war drums against the savage Urghul tribesmen, and Adare back at the palace is puzzling over whom to trust and whether her brothers still live.
Quite the setup, wouldn’t you agree? Only that, like the botched rendering of the bending of the elements in the horrible Last Air Bender movie, the plot is a slow, winding road with no end in sight. The author gives us multiple story arcs: Kaden and the strange Triste’s side, Valyn’s, Adare, and later Gwenna, Annick and the deadly Pyrre’s side. Such an ambitious plot is not easy to pull off and I’ll tell you this for free- I got lethargic reading all these discordant arcs, with the actual plot only moving by degrees.
Central to my annoyance was Adare and her brainless tromping around making all the worst possible choices and saying all the worst things you can expect. I reached an unprecedented level of vexation that I actually resorted to merely giving a cursory glance at her scenes, especially centered around the annoyingly calm il Tornja. My words are inadequate to push my point, you have to read it yourself to know.
The various plot arcs lacked the much-needed cohesiveness. There’s nothing like finishing a chapter on a high, with your heart racing and pupils dilated, only to embark on a maddeningly slow uneventful plot. After a while the plots all mash together in a clusterfuck of utter confusion that you start dreading finishing your current chapter. I have read multiple plot arcs before but this was something else. This is a disjointed hot-and-cold affair that will surely put you off venturing any further.
The plot got so convoluted, that it took long spells before I could see actual chemistry between the characters. They blurred into featureless chess pieces moving to God-knows-where. Personalities were scrubbed clean and it was just cluelessly being driven here and there like a herd of wildebeest.
All that careful deadly Kettral training came to naught. Not even a bird to give a passing resemblance of the Wing. Towards the end, Valyn for all his training and leadership acumen goes bonkers. Literally. All that Shin monk training came to naught in the case of Kaden He is an emperor pawn lacking the experience or knowledge, or even the desire to step into his shoes. Adare spent a lifetime beside her father and she’s perhaps the most idiotic of the lot. She’s just self-obsessed spoilt brat trapezing around being a nuisance to herself and everyone around her. It’s like all the characters all lose their marbles and if you start feeling like the plot is phoney, the enjoyment meter drops dramatically. Why set us up and then not deliver? Why? Why? Why?
Three stars for incredible world building. It could have been more if I didn’t have to slough through a boggy plot.