Cover illustration by: Karla Ortiz
The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Burning quartet (Book #2 of 4)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Military Fantasy,
Published: 12th November 2020 by Orbit (UK) & 10th November 2020 by Orbit (US
This review is spoiler free.
The Fires of Vengeance melts expectations; burning even hotter than the Rage of Dragons and blazing a trail for Evan Winter to join an elite group at the top of the fantasy pile.
I absolutely loved Evan Winter’s first contribution to the fantasy genre, and ever since I finished the Rage of Dragons I had been counting the months to the sequel’s release and holding on to the hope of maybe even getting a chance to read it earlier. When I was offered an ARC, I jumped at the chance to read more about Tau and his journey on the path of vengeance and immediately made space in my schedule.
“Rage reaches into the world when we can no longer contain the hurt of being treated as if our life and loves do not matter. Rage, and its consequences, are what we get when the world refuses to change for anything less.”
First off, I once again want to commend Karla Ortiz on the artwork she has created that adorns the covers of this series. I thought she could not top the beautiful art she did for The Rage of Dragons, but I like the cover for Fires of Vengeance even better and can honestly say that it would make me buy this book even knowing nothing about it. It’s gorgeous and I would not be lying in saying I am overly excited to see the remaining two covers!
“I have died more times than the days I’ve lived,”
The story picks up immediately after the climactic events of the first book, but I won’t discuss those here at all for fear of possible spoilers. What I will say is that those events have a profound impact on our protagonist and greatly shapes him going forward.
Tau is still as driven as ever in his quest, but the situations he finds himself in forces him to see past his tunnel vision of vengeance and to glimpse other possible futures, giving him a chance to grow as a person and making the story all the more well rounded for it. While the story up to now was sufficiently carried by this singular goal of Tau’s to utterly destroy those who did him wrong, as a driver for the plot it did not seem sustainable for four books and I am ecstatic that there is now so much more to the story and main character. And while he is given the dragon’s share of development befitting the main character, Winter has not forgotten the rest of the cast, coloring in the empty spaces of the other players as well, giving us much more interesting characters, and apart from rage and its effects, also exploring the themes of brotherhood and camaraderie, family, friendship and love, all the while investing us even further in every possible fight, conversation, relationship and future.
Grief, anger, they’ll hold you for a time. They must. But if you let
them root and fester, they’ll become a hate that will consume you.”
Now to address the baby elephant in the first book’s room. As for my one complaint with The Rage of Dragons, it is non-existent here. That book has a distinct lack of noteworthy women as part of the main story. Yes, they were there in the background, and they were stated as powerful, but they seemed to take a back seat to the men in the story which is all the more unusual considering the matriarchal society. And upon rereading I also noticed a few instances of sexism and or misogyny from the male characters that I had previously missed and made me cringe. I fully expected Evan Winter to rectify these issues in the sequel though, as the groundwork for these powerful female characters had already been laid and I was not disappointed. The author excises everything that was wrong in that regard and venerates the female characters as they should always have been, giving them the stage and letting them shine.
The scope of the story has become much larger too as we are treated to further exploration of Xidda; her peoples, politics, history and lore are all expanded upon and there is so much to see and enjoy that you almost want to take a break from the relentless excitement to take it all in. Winter has up to now revealed only bits and pieces regarding the Omehi, but book two serves up an entire feast of new information that was thoroughly engrossing and whetted the appetite for what is surely setting up an explosive continuation of the series. There is just a LOT going on in this story, but it never feels overwhelming or confusing and it kicks off right from the get-go, setting a breakneck pace with revelations galore (I may have shouted out HOLY CRAP! more than once.) and exhilarating action packed in from beginning to end. Speaking of action…
The Rage of Dragons should have left readers in no doubt that Evan Winter’s skill at writing combat scenes clearly announced him as brilliant in that regard, with pulse pounding, vivid and easy to follow fighting scenes that are as good as any you will read. The Fires of Vengeance only confirms these opinions with duels and battles that are even more ferocious and thrilling than what came before, and the story is filled with them as if Winter had a box full of them just waiting to be unpacked and gifted to us. It’s relentless and yet never drawn out, upping the ante continuously, ensuring that the pacing never suffers whilst presenting many riveting and cinematic sequences. If you are a fan of well written close quarter combat, then look no further. Winter excels at it.
The killing fields were covered with the dead, lying like unearthed worms across the ground as smoke cocooned the air like massive spiderwebs. Men, their mouths yawning wide in endless screams, died for an eternity, and in the sky was Black Wrath…
If you have not yet seen the writing between the lines, this book is extremely hard to put down. The writing gives over to effortless reading. The prose is always concise and engaging and perfectly balances plot and characterization with the above mentioned numerous action sequences. I could have easily consumed this story in one or two sittings had life not intervened, it was THAT gripping. In fact, I buddy read this with my co-blogger, Petrik, and the difference in page turning quality between this book and his previous read was like night and day for him. Consider yourself warned then that you may lose sleep! While most of the narrative is told from Tau’s perspective, there is a particular POV chapter in this book that was as BRUTAL as they come. At first I was puzzled as to the why of it, but it soon became clear that this was an inspired decision on Winter’s part, giving insight into a particularly harsh experience and the realities of it’s debilitating and unforgiving nature, while also providing a glimpse at our main characters from an outsider’s viewpoint. Brilliant!
The first book of The Burning quartet was a fantastic debut with minor issues, and I am convinced that any writer would be happy to repeat that writing feat, delivering more of the same. Evan Winter however did not rest on his laurels, and not only eviscerated the minor faults of the first book, but amplified what was already great about it, with a book that outclasses it’s predecessor in every department and sets an extremely high bar for books three and four. Simply put: This is a must read! And while it is difficult to imagine Winter surpassing the excellence of this second book, I have faith. The final pages of the story delivered a tantalizing stopping point to the middle of the series, on the brink of a major event and setting up a possible war that may dwarf anything the story has given us so far.
“We may not be strong enough . . . ,” she whispered. “We may not have our tomorrow.”
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.