The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter is a debut novel and is just a straight up great fantasy adventure story. Oh, and it is a debut novel too! I have to say, going in, I was a little worried about my expectations being too high as this book has had a lot of hype over the last year or so. Just about everyone seemed to be raving about the merits of this book, and I am always a little wary when a book gets so much praise because I worry I won’t enjoy it as much as everyone else. But in this case, the hype is justified!
The story follows Tau – a warrior born into a lower caste in an African- inspired, bronze age, fantasy world – on his quest for vengeance. Tau, and the other main characters, are all part of the Omehi people and are engaged in a seemingly ever-lasting war against the ‘savage’ Hedeni tribes for the last couple of centuries. This near constant war has led to a highly rigid and militaristic society that is divided between the Nobles and Lessers: kind of like African feudalism, I guess. These castes feed the different military units of their culture: the Indlovu for noble born soldiers and Ihashe for the Lessers. While these castes produce many skilled warriors, it is the Gifted who provide the Omehi with their true cutting edge – an edge that has allowed them to wage war against an enemy with far greater numbers. The Gifted are the all female mages of the Omehi and they can turn a man into a giant with iron-hard skin, send the enemy to the shadowy world of demons, and even call dragons to aid in battle. So vital are the Gifted to the Omehi people’s survival that being born with these powers places you practically above all but the Queen in their society, even if born to the lowest castes.
Much of the world-building in this book, as you can probably tell, is about the military and how it is interwoven within Omehi society. We get a bit about their myths and legends, and a bit about politics, but mostly we see how their soldiers live, how their military is structured and how their soldiers are trained. And this almost singular focus is a product of the story being very driven and focused around just Tau.
This singular focus means that we spend almost the entirety of the book with Tau and his quest for revenge. There is no jumping between characters and multiple POV here folks – which gives the story some real pace! It is definitely one of the more faster-paced fantasy books going, in my opinion. But don’t worry about spending the entire time in one character’s head, because Tau is fascinating. He goes through a few changes in mindset throughout the story, and certainly not that likeable at times due to his ruthless and single-minded focus on vengeance. He really is willing to do pretty much anything to suceed. Though you are still kind cheering him on, or at least I was, even if I was, at times, thinking, ‘Oh no! Don’t do that Tau! Bad Tau!’
Away from Tau, we do get a few other well fleshed out characters, such as Zuri, Jabari, Hadith and Uduak, but not a massive variety. The story is, as I have already said, very heavily focused around Tau and these characters all spend plenty of time with him.
What else is there to say about this book other than the world-building and the character of Tau? Well the fighting, of course! This is a violent book. If you’re not a fan of that kind of stuff, then this won’t be the book for you. But, saying that, I can’t help but be impressed with the fight scenes and the way that Winter managed to choreograph and write them. The best fight scenes, in my opinion, strike a balance between capturing the confusion and chaos of a battle with actually letting us readers not get completely baffled about what is happening so we can build a mental picture of the fight and how our characters are doing. And, I have to say, Winter pulls this off superbly.
Overall, I would 100% recommend this book to anyone looking for a super-fast, classic style fantasy adventure in a fresher, non-medieval-Europe world. If you prefer, or are just looking for, something a bit slower and with more introspection on our characters, then it might not be for you. I like both, but The Rage of Dragons is a really good fantasy adventure story.