The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

The Rage of Dragons book cover
Rating 9.3/10
A strong African-inspired revenge fantasy novel

The Rage of Dragons is an African-inspired revenge fantasy novel. This is worthy of attention in and of itself, simply because fantasy is dominated by white male authors who write about white male characters.  Admittedly I enjoy reading such books, though it’s refreshing to see more diverse books appearing in the fantasy genre in recent years. There are other voices out there, and they really are worth listening to.

The story begins in the middle of a battle, which sets the tone for the martial focus for the book. There is so much action and so much struggle for victory across these pages. Dragons are the absolute last resort, a weapon that should only be used when there is no other choice because it is such a terribly powerful one. The prologue captures this very quickly, and as the book progresses the significance of that first scene is later expanded upon with a great amount of detail which really helped to strengthen the world building. And this is a world that is slightly different to the Eurocentric medieval fantasy that many of us are used to. It’s all in the small details, the land is hot and barren, the warriors fight with bronze swords and bone spears. All these simple things, along with the names of characters and places, help to give the book a distinct feel. 

Tau is a solid protagonist and his reactions to his circumstances are entirely normal and human. It’s easy to become invested in him. He didn’t want to be a warrior and he was looking for a way out, but the injustice of his world took someone from him, so he becomes driven by revenge and blood. And judging by his determination, he will clearly get what he wants. He lives to train, and eventually becomes skilful enough to best opponents twice his size. The book took a somewhat predictable direction because of this, but the strength of Tau’s convictions and personality made up for the linearity. The action was also constant, never relenting until the final chapters.

I enjoyed the magic system, the idea that a “gifted” could use special powers to improve the strength and speed of warriors in battle. The two work together to ensure victory. It remined me somewhat of Kursed in Thor: Dark World and it gave the fighting (especially the large-scale battles) an added element, making them more complex and interesting to read about. It wasn’t as simple as knife work; tactics were needed to bring down powerful foes. And whilst I’m on the subject of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I recommend this to fans of Black Panther because it is put together just as well and has a similar feel.

Overall, this is a strong first novel in the series. It’s unique and offers a totally different version of fantasy. Orbit were totally right to snap this up (it was previously only a self-published title.) More please.
Sean Barrs, 8.5/10

"We know your witches are dying," shouted the warlord, near the edge of hearing. "We know it as we know that, in the coming cycles, you will have too few to call the fire-demons. We know it and offered you peace. You saw that as weakness, paying it back with the blood of our innocent. Queen of demons, what you saw was kindness, not weakness. Queen of demons, what you will see is vengeance, righteous in cause and unholy in deliverance."

Revenge is a dish best served cold - this we know. It serves as a powerful motivational tool, but one that can be difficult to tell. The entire focus cannot just be vengeance. There has to be something more.

The Rage of Dragons is a large tome that definitely requires a substantial time investment. It's nearly 550 pages, which isn't all that huge in size, but what it contains inside is a story that you must take care to give your full attention. It is absolutely massive in scope. However, I never felt overwhelmed or bogged down with information.

Similar to Josiah Bancroft & Jonathan French, The Rage of Dragons was originally a self-published release (back in 2017) before getting scooped up by Orbit. The folks there clearly know what they are doing, because HOLY FORKING SHIRTBALLS!! Also? Check out that stunning cover art by Karla Ortiz (you must take a look at her work if you are unfamiliar with it) & designed by the super-talent that is Lauren Panepinto.

Immediately The Rage of Dragons thrusts the reader into a battle that is already in progress. Queen Taifa & the Omehi people have arrived on the shores of Xidda & wish to take over. The local inhabitants, the Hedeni, are so very very opposed to that idea.

Explosive violence ensues.

From there, Winter builds his story from the ground up, with the main story taking place two centuries after the intense prologue. Centered around Tau, a lower-class Omehi warrior.

Tau didn't start out striving to be a leader, in fact he wanted to settle down somewhere quiet & live a peaceful life. But now he must follow an ambitious plan in order to avenge his loss.

At one point I saw this referred to as Game of Thrones meets Gladiator. It's certainly got a Gladiator feel along with the politics of Game of Thrones, but for me I would say that it is closer to a Blood Song meets Red Rising vibe than anything else. Admittedly, some of that is because of the trope that I will never tire of - an institute of sorts that focuses on learning & combat. Stabby, glorious combat! In this case, Tau training to be an Ihashe, an elite military fighter.

This is a hard book to describe, without getting into spoiler territory. There is just SO MUCH going on.

It's quintessential sword & sorcery, yet one of the few African-inspired epic fantasies out there, which is completely refreshing. These are stories that absolutely must be told!

There are many, many, many themes throughout this beautifully crafted tale - among them revenge, war, politics, inequality & love.

"A dragon had been called, and someone would have to die."

The Rage of Dragons explodes at a breakneck pace. Complex characters, dragons, revenge, ALL THE STABBY-STABBY-STAB-STAB. I adored everything about this book! The cover, the chapter titles, the maps, the wee dragon on the spine, the notes from Winter at the back... it was just fucking phenomenal. Truly.

What a brilliant debut!
Holly Grimdragon, 10/10

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