The Rage of Dragons is a blazing African-inspired epic fantasy debut that was so possessive of my attention, it simply wouldn’t allow me to read anything else until I finished it.
This book was originally self-published and released in September 2017. Honestly speaking, I have seen and known about this book since then but the book wasn’t able to move up the monstrosity that is my TBR tower for some reason. However, its acquisition by Orbit, which resulted in a brand new gorgeous cover art done by the ingenious Karla Ortiz, is a total cover seller—look at the Zulu shield and the intricately apt mural in the cover!—that practically screamed “Buy and read me now” to me, and so that’s what I did.
“I’d rather live with a thing done poorly than do nothing and always wonder how things could have been.”
I believe that the ARC of the book is on its way to me at the moment. Even with that information in mind, knowing that the ebook was already available to purchase (physical copies will be out in July) I bought it to give my support to the author. I was only going to read a few chapters but I ended up being completely hooked and read through it like Sonic the Hedgehog being lured by infinite golden coins; it was too addictive to stop. Let me just say this again before I begin my review. The equation is simple; a fantasy debut published by Orbit these days is for me equal to “I want it.” I haven’t been disappointed at all by the adult fantasy debuts released by Orbit—Kings of the Wyld, Age of Assassins, Jade City, Senlin Ascends, and The Gutter Prayer—over the past few years and The Rage of Dragons once again continues that trend.
“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.”
The Rage of Dragons is an African (Xhosa) inspired epic fantasy debut by Evan Winter, and it is the first installment in The Burning quartet. The people of Omehi have been caught in an unwinnable war for almost two hundred years, and the story revolves around our main character, the young and gift-less Tau. Tau is determined to just settle down, get married, and live in peace. However, an unfortunate event causes his entire motivation to shift towards the path of vengeance. I really suggest going into this book without knowing about the story, but if you want to know more, the blurb on Goodreads and Amazon is there for you to check out.
At its core, the main theme of the novel is revenge. The best comparison I can think of for this book is Pierce Brown’s sci-fi debut, Red Rising. Don’t get me wrong, the prose is totally different in style and there aren’t any sci-fi elements in this book; but the story progression, the injustice in a social hierarchy, the explosive pacing, and the main character truly made me feel like I was reading Red Rising, which I highly loved. As with Darrow—the main character from Red Rising, I wouldn’t say that I love Tau as the main character, but both Tau and Darrow have this crucial entertaining element for me; they are utterly compelling main characters. Tau is a person with indomitable determination; guided by palpable fury and rage on his road to revenge, his resolve was simply unbending and even though I didn’t really like some of his actions and certain elements of his personality, I found his motivations to be realistically believable and worth reading.
“I can’t imagine a world where the man holding a sword does not have the last say over the man without one. If you’re not prepared to fight, you place yourself and everything you love beneath the blades of others, praying they choose not to cut. I have felt the mercy of armed men and they will never find me helpless again.”
Told mostly from Tau’s third-person perspective narrative, the accessible prose that never gets in the way of the story enhanced the engrossing flow of the book. Although the storyline was a bit predictable, I found the execution and pacing to be absolutely brilliant. There was always something going on; it was fast-paced, incredibly engaging, and brimming with tension. If I have to choose the most outstanding aspect of the book, it would definitely be the battle scenes. It’s been so long since I’ve read a debut with close-quarter battle scenes of the high caliber featured within this novel; it felt like reading Abercrombie’s gritty action sequences. Every battle was easy to follow, gripping, and vivid. The heart-pounding actions never stop escalating until the climax sequences. Believe me, there was a barrage of awesome duels, and I simply can’t get enough of them. Winter combines cinematic scenes and economical characterizations wonderfully. There was never any moment where the characters were just fighting emotionlessly like robots. The brief respites between one danger and the next were very efficiently utilized for characterizations and emphasizing characters’ motivations clearly.
“It was the purity of it, the honesty. When Tau sparred, it was just him and his opponent. All that mattered was experience, skill, determination, and will. The rest of the world slipped away, leaving only the next move, the next counter, the next attack, the next victory.
The magic system and the demonic aspect of the book were both clever and felt refreshing. I also loved reading every section that involved Isihogo; I’ll leave that for you to find out for yourself. Admittedly, I had two minor issues with the book that prevented me from giving it a full 5 stars rating. The first was that it took some time for me to get used to the in-world terminologies. There were only a few explicit explanations and it’s up to the reader to understand what each term meant through the context of the story; there was a quite lot and in my opinion, a glossary would help. Although by the end I have understood almost all of them, it took half of the book for me to get a grasp on what most of the words/terms/honorifics meant. The other issue was that I feel the book would’ve benefited from more noteworthy female characters, especially after considering how the female characters in this series have the potential to be extremely powerful and flawed in personality. There were only two noteworthy female characters throughout the whole book and one of them appeared only near the end. That being said, seeing the way the story concluded in the first book, there’s a huge chance the second issue I had with the book will be redeemed in the next installment and I highly look forward to it. In the grander scheme of things, my rating speaks for itself and these minor cons only slightly diminish my overall enjoyment of the book.
“The days without difficulty are the days you do not improve.”
This was my first experience with reading African-inspired epic fantasy and I want more. Evan Winter is another new fantasy voice to watch out for; his voice deserves to be heard and his book deserves to be read. If you’re still on the fence about this, let the flame of the dragons burn that dilemma to ash. The Rage of Dragons is a breathtaking fantasy debut that triggered tons of adrenaline rush in me. I immensely enjoyed reading it and upon completion, I’m seriously in pain over the fact that the sequel isn’t out yet. The second book is now on my priority list of anticipated books. I highly recommend The Rage of Dragons to anyone who loves reading a fast-paced revenge story with great characterizations for the main character. More importantly, if you love reading fantasy with well-written battle scenes, there’s a huge chance that this book is for you.
Official release date for the physical copies: July 18, 2019 (UK) and July 16, 2019 (US)