The Providence of Fire – Book Review

staveley_anderson_providence-of-fire

Providence of Fire, by Brian Staveley. Published by Tor. Cover art by Richard Anderson.

I have to admit, I entered Providence of Fire with no small amount of trepidation. It is the second book in The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy by Brian Staveley. I had been excited for the first book, The Emperor’s Blades, when I heard about it and purchased a signed copy at an event featuring the author at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in New York City. I was excited because I’d heard the book blended Eastern and Buddhist philosophies/mythologies into a unique fantasy setting filled with bird-riding warriors, gods, and cruel, emotionless immortals. My friend was the author’s publicist at the time and she introduced me to him. He was very nice and down-to-earth, and I was excited to read his book. Working in publishing gives me a unique problem: I have WAY too many books to read at any given time, and it took me a year to finally get around to reading The Emperor’s Blades. While I found the setting rich and detailed, the history fascinating, and the characters interesting, I was disappointed by the slow pacing as well as the fact that, while impending disaster loomed over the characters, it was never really clear what that disaster would be or where it would come from when it came. But most importantly, it never gave the reader a reason to care whether or not the characters prevented the approaching calamity. So when The Emperor’s Blades concluded with a cryptic statement, no doubt intended to fill readers with a sense of anticipation for Providence of Fire, all I could really do was shrug my shoulders. The Emperor’s Blades did have enough going for it to convince me to take a crack at the sequel, but I did so with the mindset that if I didn’t like what I found in the first 100-200 pages, I would abandon the trilogy. But I’m sure glad I stuck with it because Providence of Fire is a major improvement over its predecessor, and a great work of fantasy literature.

Providence of Fire begins shortly after the conclusion of The Emperor’s Blades. Valyn and his kettral wing successfully, if luckily, foiled the attempt on his brother Kaden’s life, but are now being hunted by their fellow kettral for disobeying their commander’s orders. Kaden, though uncrowned as the emperor of the Annurian Empire, has successfully achieved the emotionless trance known as the vaniate and is ready to continue his training and seek the help of the Ishien monks in combating the return of humanity’s ancient enemy, the emotionless csestriim. Meanwhile, Adare, (Kaden and Valyn’s sister) has discovered the true identity of their father’s murderer and hatches a plot to depose him. Their separate paths will lead them across hundreds of miles, through torture and imprisonment, and defeat and triumph as they each try to hold the Annurian Empire’s enemies at bay while also unraveling the riddle of the csestriim. Yet the world they live in is far more complex than they could ever have realized; a world where every positive action could have lasting, negative consequences. And in order to keep chaos at bay all three will need to learn to trust others as well as themselves.

Right from the first page, Providence of Fire addresses one of my main issues with The Emperor’s Blades: the pacing. Where the first book in the trilogy plodded along interminably before anything noteworthy happened, this entry leaps through several hundred pages at a breakneck speed from the beginning. The characters travel hundreds of miles, make startling and unexpected alliances, and see themselves through tremendous threats. With the exception of maybe Valyn, whose major character growth comes at the very end, the characters all develop believably and accordingly to the circumstances in which they find themselves and do their best to rise to the physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual challenges they face. Even when they don’t succeed, they learn from the experience and mistakes, and move on to face the next challenge with renewed determination and strength.

But really, what stuck out most to me in Providence of Fire are the complex questions and issues the characters must all face. There are no right or wrong answers to these challenges, and the characters openly admit they may be making a mistake when they choose a certain path over another knowing that they’ll have to live with the consequences whatever they may be. Yet they know they can’t dilly-dally, or hem and haw over a tough situation endlessly. Their world requires action and decisiveness, not unlike our own, and they often step forward, not because they know a solution, but because they have to step forward. It is this aspect of Providence of Fire which, I think, makes it a transcendent work of fantasy in our own very complex world. Like Providence of Fire, we must often trust to hope, faith, and chance to tackle the challenges in our life. The results may not always be pretty or what we want, but they’re what we have. And, as Kaden learns through the course of his journey, what we have is the present.

In short, if you enjoyed The Emperor’s Blades, you’ll love Providence of Fire. If you didn’t like The Emperor’s Blades, or if you were on the fence about it like I was, I’d still recommend giving Providence of Fire a shot. Not only is it a vast improvement over its predecessor, it is everything a good fantasy novel should be. Let’s hope Brian Staveley can keep it up for the final entry in the trilogy, The Last Mortal Bond, which goes on sale in March.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F – Movie Review

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F movie poster.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F movie poster.

It’s no secret that I love Dragon Ball Z (DBZ). I wrote about it a couple of years ago ago. So imagine how excited I was when Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods was announced during the summer of 2012. I had to wait a year before I was able to watch it with subtitles, and another half year beyond that to watch the English dub. While it was enjoyable, and definitely better than most of the DBZ movies that were produced in the 1990s, it wasn’t fantastic by any stretch of the imagination. It seems it was just a re-introduction to the world a few years after the events of the Majin Buu arc that closed the 90s TV show, and it showed as the characters didn’t really develop much. Instead Battle of Gods focused primarily on humor, fighting, and nostalgia. Which isn’t bad, and it was a fun romp at the very least. Most people (myself included) were just happy to see DBZ updated with contemporary, high-definition animation since the TV show ended in Japan long before the HD age. Yet it seemed lacking in a lot of areas.

Thankfully, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F improves on Battle of Gods by quite a good margin. Resurrection F takes place perhaps a year after Battle of Gods. Goku and Vegeta are off training with Whis (pronounced “weese”) in Beerus‘ realm. Meanwhile, the flailing remnants of Frieza‘s (the main villain of the Namekian arc of the TV show) empire concoct a plan to, at long last, resurrect their lord and master with the use of the Earth’s Dragon Balls. They succeed, and using a new type of cellular regeneration technology, they are able to get Frieza back into fighting shape. Yet Frieza realizes that at his current level he won’t stand a chance against Goku’s Super Saiyan form, so Frieza does something he has never done before: train to increase his strength. After several months, Frieza sets course for Earth with over a thousand soldiers in order to exact his revenge, but with Goku and Vegeta training in Beerus’ realm, some of Earth’s other heroes have to step up to the plate until they can call their heavy hitters home.

Resurrection F follows a very typical DBZ plot formula: the Earth’s weaker heroes must bide their time and hold the lines until Goku and Vegeta return. We’ve seen this a lot over the course of DBZ, and quite frankly, you’d think the same formula would be tiring. Yet given the movie’s fast pace it isn’t so bad, and Toriyama (or any other screenwriters who were involved in making Resurrection F) actually writes character dialogue that jokingly points out the recycled plot device when Krillin exhorts Goku to show up when the battle actually begins next time. In fact, this entry delightfully parodies what fans and detractors have criticized DBZ of for years. For example, when Tien shows up to help fight Frieza’s lackeys, he states he didn’t bother telling Yamcha or Chiaotzu because even the weak members of Frieza’s army are “too much for them.” Even Master Roshi gets in on the action, and he still can’t even fly! So I guess Yamcha and Chiaotzu have become especially weak…Unfortunately, even Gohan is only a shadow of the strong fighter he once was. In the TV show, he surpassed even Goku during both the Cell arc, and arguably during the Majin Buu arc, and it was disappointing to see him relegated to the weaker crew. Despite this, Goku and Vegeta really shine, and their rivalry (which is pretty friendly at this point even if they don’t like to admit it) continues to take them to new heights and powers. Both even get some character development this time around, if only a bit.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F isn’t a perfect movie by any means. It rehashes old plot tricks, and with the focus on lots of action it doesn’t have time to highlight the entirety of DBZ‘s extensive cast of characters, much less give them any significant development. But it does get a lot right. Frieza is a delightfully arrogant and verbose villain that isn’t bound by the strict codes of honor and love of fighting that many of the other characters, and even some of the villains throughout the series display. The animation is phenomenal and really portrays the hits and action wonderfully. There were plenty of nostalgic cash-ins for longtime fans, such as Master Roshi beefing up to fight Frieza’s army, and Krillin putting on the ol’ gi and shaving his head. Finally, while it is a DBZ movie through and through, it isn’t afraid to poke fun of itself and the usual DBZ tropes. Resurrection F is easily one of the best DBZ movies to date. I wouldn’t doubt that some would argue it is the best, but I still think Dead Zone holds that title for me. Both more recent and longtime fans of DBZ will highly enjoy Resurrection F. Let’s hope that the new TV show, Dragon Ball Super, can keep things rolling.

As an addendum, it’s hard to express in words how much you enjoy a movie, especially during a review when you have to consider both the strengths and the weaknesses of that movie. Let me just say while watching Resurrection F, I did something I’ve not done in a long, long time. Probably not since I was a teenager watching DBZ on Cartoon Network when it was still new and fresh. There were during points Resurrection F where I was laughing, bouncing up and down on the couch, and throwing punches at the air all at the same time. If you did any of these things when watching the TV show, you’ll probably do it while watching Resurrection F. Just sayin. (Pun intended.)

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