The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter
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
A heart-stoppingly ferocious fantasy achievement, The Rage of Dragons is exhilarating in its execution and an enthralling debut you won’t want to miss.
Let’s not deny it. We have all bought a book based on its cover alone. Most of the times we get lucky and the story is great, but now and then we feel like fools for making such impulsive purchases without checking reviews. The Rage of Dragons lured me in with just such a cover in a moment of weakness, but I can happily say the contents match, if not surpass the exterior. Before I get carried away though, let’s take a moment to appreciate the art of Karla Ortiz.
The story starts with a roar of a prologue, dropping us into a massive battle that immediately thrills with its sheer scope, breathtaking duels, bloodthirsty ferocity and glimpses of unknown magic. It’s reminiscent of the prologue that Brandon Sanderson wrote in The Way of Kings, in that it is a glimpse of a terrible event with far-reaching consequences for the story we are about to follow and it takes place in the distant past. As the story shifts to our present, we meet our protagonist Tau, who is no-one important.
He is a Lesser among his people, the Omehi, whose society is based on a caste system. Tau serves his betters as is his place and expected of him. Some would rage against these shackles and want more than they are given, but Tau, for the most part, is content. He has a plan, and with some minor luck he will be able to avoid becoming a soldier; fodder in the everlasting war his people fight against the natives. If his plan succeeds, peace and the woman he loves will be within his grasp. Fate is ever a cruel and fickle mistress though, and events cause a dramatic shift in Tau’s future outlook, giving birth to a burning hatred within him and a plot device that stokes the flames of my bookish heart:
To quote one of my favourite films:
"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
I don’t want to cover the plot much more than that, because this is such a great experience of a book, but I will say that Tau is consumed by an overwhelming anger, hatred and the need for revenge, and through sheer will and determination sets himself on the path of becoming an elite soldier in order to fulfill his vengeance. His single-mindedness is an effective tool that helps his quest of becoming the weapon he needs to be, but boy could it be frustrating at times. So much so that at one point I complained to a friend that I wanted to slap Tau in the hope of removing his blinkers. His character motivations are always believable though, and I found myself easily invested in him, despite his moments of madness, bad judgement or stubbornness. Tau is not always likeable, but he is human, and just like any of us, fallible. How do we react in the face of violence, murder, bloodshed? Can we rise above and find a path to peace? Can we break the cycle of violence? Turn the other cheek? Forgive? These are some of the questions that Evan Winter asks of his creations, and there is a delight in seeing how they respond.
Speaking of the characters... The only quibble I have with the story is something I noticed about halfway through that felt off. There is a distinct lack of women featured in the story, apart from Tau’s love interest, Zuri, and one other. And it is weird because the Omehi venerates females. They are above men in standing, with many women in powerful positions. They are ruled by a queen for example, and their magic wielders known as Gifted, are all extremely powerful women. Thinking back on the story, I think there was a female warrior among the enemies of the Omehi, so perhaps it’s a cultural thing specific to them. I just felt it needed a mention, as once you notice - it’s hard to ignore. Hopefully, they get more page time in book two, because the little bit of them we see shows interesting, complex characters that can add even more to the story.
Hints of a larger world are present as early as the gripping opening sequence, but The Rage of Dragons chooses to tell us a much more intimate, personal story of one man’s vengeance, and as such we are confined to a small corner of what sounds like a vast, imaginative world. The author has mentioned that the story is African-inspired and I imagine I enjoyed this facet a bit more than most people will, recognising many of the foreign words. I was born in a place called KwaZulu Natal and Zulu is one of the main languages. Words such as Indlovu (elephants) as a name for a warrior group or Inyoku (snake) for a warrior that is said to strike very fast or even Isihogo, which means hell, are prominent throughout and I loved knowing their meaning. Although I have heard that the words used are Xhosa, they are similar if not the same as many of the Zulu words that I know (I have since read that they are mutually intelligible) and they reinforced the African feel, deepening my immersion.
“I can't imagine a world where the man holding a sword does not have the last say over the man without one.”
With vengeance being Tau’s main driving force, it is not surprising that scintillating action takes centre stage in The Rage of Dragons. And I mean, FRONT and CENTRE. Major battles, skirmishes and duels are prevalent throughout, but that would mean nothing if they weren't well written, and boyyyyyyy are they well written. Evan Winter should not be able to pull off this level of skill in a debut, but he must have made a sacrifice to the writing gods because he is clearly gifted. Scintillating, immersive, vivid, ferocious and cinematic - there are not many authors able to match the pulse-pounding action scenes that The Rage of Dragons brings to the table and I couldn't get enough of it. Five hundred plus pages? Who knew? The pace never flagged, and even though this is a chonker of a book it was over too soon. The sequel, please Mr Winter!
“That’s the price. Life is nothing more than moments in time. To achieve greatness, you have to give up those moments. You have to give your life to your goal.”
Without a doubt, The Rage of Dragons is a stellar debut and easily one of the best books I have read this year. Don’t take my word for it though. Read it, experience it for yourself and remember Evan Winter’s name; he is going to be a giant in fantasy.
Oh, did I mention that there are DRAGONS?
Should have led with that probably :)
We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged. - Heinrich Heine
Eon Van Aeswagen, 9/10
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The Rage of Dragons
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Game of Thrones meets Gladiator in this debut epic fantasy about a world caught in an eternal war, and the young man who will become his people's...
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