Review by: Ro Moore
The Rage of Dragons is the first installment in a new dark fantasy series by Evan Winter. Brace, because this is an action-packed journey marked by friendship, loss, love, betrayal, and a driving need for revenge that sets a young warrior on a path that will change not only his life, but the fate of his people. And that’s before you throw demons and dragons into the mix.
In a prologue set 186-cycles into the past, readers encounter the Omehi (the Chosen) as a people on the run. Out of time, and in need of a safe haven, they make a stand against the savagely possessive tribes of the Hedeni in a bid to seize a peninsula for their new homeland. The ensuing battle and blood-soaked mayhem results in a massive loss of life and but ultimately secures a home for the Chosen.
The decisions made and paths chosen that day, carry far-reaching magical repercussions that seed this mesmerizing opening with such irresistible mystery and addictive potency there’s little chance readers won’t keep turning the page. I know I did.
This saga immediately jumps forward picking up events with Tau Solarin. Tau, a novice swordsman, lives in rural Fief Kerem (a coastal city) in a society governed by an unbending caste system. Among the Omehi, caste controls everything and is viciously enforced. As the child of parents from differing caste, Tau is “High Common” but still considered “Lesser” thereby setting his life path far outside the “Noble” circles. In a society where honor and opportunity are tied to caste, Tau’s father does everything to prepare his son to join the ranks of the Ihashe in the Omehian military and gain the status of warrior. After fateful series of events end in his father’s murder, Tau vows to make the responsible nobles pay.
“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.”
Despite being exiled from Kerem, Tau gains entrance into a military academy and is woefully underprepared for the rigors of initiate training. But Tau would rather go mad than give up.
After reuniting with his childhood love, Zuri – now one of the “Gifted” caste learning to bond with dragons and how to harness the magic of the underworld Isihogo imbue warriors during battle – teaches Tau to slip free of his physical form to battle demons in the underworld.
These battles change Tau in ways he never imagined and vastly improve his combat abilities. His growth and time at the academy soon reveal dangers that outweigh even his thirst for vengeance. And thus, begins his greater journey; one that may be all that stands between his people and annihilation. The Rage of Dragons maybe Tau’s story, but its path is a winding one full of rich characters who are in no way secondary.
Winter expertly structures both the greater world and the intricacies of relationships in a society built on a rigid caste system. His use of myths and history to infuse this world of battle mages and lethal warriors with vivid energy like few stories I’ve ever read or even seen on screen. I was hooked from the opening and stayed dialed in straight through to the last word.
Relying on Tau’s perspective, told in the third person, Winter sets an invigorating pace without neglecting or phoning in the emotional details and character development that give dark fantasy its true grit and depth. You’ll connect to Tau’s pain, lament his mistakes, and stand in awe of his determination. There’s no pandering, no exploitation of traditional notions of Black pain for trauma beats. This world simply is and comes to life through spectacular storytelling.
Winter’s describes The Rage of Dragons as “Game of Thrones meets Dune or Gladiator” but this introspective sword and sorcery epic blends a brilliant magic system, engrossing action and battles with folklore and historical feudal themes into a world that looks to a mythic Africa for its center. With a clarity and skill that’s impressively sustained, through 544 pages, Winter introduces a complex society full of dark-skinned people with not only recognizable but relatable motives, struggles, and infused with presence.
Unlike many epic fantasies, not a single moment reading Rage ever feels wasted. This is more than just a novel “inspired by or set in an Africa-inspired world” that then falls back on tropes or staid narratives to carry it forward. What’s sets The Rage of Dragons apart isn’t its decidedly non-western setting. It’s Winter’s refreshingly well imagined magic system and his decidedly edgy take on battle magic and the cost of vengeance. There’s never any need to call attention to the fact events take place in a mythical Africa because Winter’s characters and worldbuilding need no such qualification. The Rage of Dragons is an evocative tale that pulls no punches.
Evan Winter lures you into his world with blazing action then weaves compelling characters and emotional angst into a captivating world. It’s a most welcome addition to the epic hero’s journey.
I haven’t enjoyed an unlikely hero story this much since I lost my mind over Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song.
This is hands down one of my favorite books of the year. Yes, I know it’s only August. But this is an amazingly promising start to a series, and I can hardly wait to see what comes next.
The Rage of Dragons, Book One of The Burning, was (re)released by Orbit July 16, 2019.