The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter was originally self-published in 2017, then picked up by Orbit and republished last year. It’s an exhilarating epic fantasy, and one of few I’ve read recently told from a single point of view. The protagonist, Tau, is in many ways an unlikeable character, but written so well that the reader ends up rooting for him regardless. I’m excited to see how his journey develops further in the sequels.
“Let them think me a monster” the Dragon Queen thought. “I will be a monster, if it means we survive.”
This African-inspired epic fantasy follows Tau, a Lesser in a kingdom where caste is everything, the son of an acclaimed Lesser swordsman. Tau lives out his days as the sparring partner of Jabari, a Petty Noble of higher caste, and training to join the Ihashe – a group of Lesser warriors and his only chance of achieving any sort of status. He’d be quite content to be injured out of the Ihashe and marry Zuri, a girl from his village – but when his life is turned upside down, his life instead turns into a quest for vengeance.
The world-building is excellent, with an intriguing magic system and a rigid caste system that’s completely believable. Dragons play a less prominent role than the title suggests – this is very much a military fantasy, with focus on training and battles – but is no less gripping for their absence. It also doesn’t shy away from the horrors and difficulties of war. Evan Winter’s world is stark and brutal, but retains enough elements of hope and humour to make this an enjoyable read.
Character building is less of a focus than in many novels, and consequently the first 100 pages are a bit of a slow slog, but the novel grows into itself and the plot and setting are good enough that the lack of character depth matters less. I would have liked to get to know Tau and his motivations more – along with the other major characters, such as Uduak, Hadith, and Zuri – but the pace of the novel likely would have suffered. Despite being a fan of character-driven novels, I can appreciate why that wasn’t the direction taken here.
The ending is impressive, wrapping up the story but leaving plenty of potential for a sequel. It struck a great balance between allowing this novel to stand alone and leaving plenty of questions to be answered in subsequent books – something that not every novel manages. I like the note it ended on and hope the sequel builds on these excellent foundations.
“The Lessers shook the Crags with the power in their voices. ‘The world burns!’”
Overall, this is a fabulous epic fantasy novel likely to appeal to fans of plot-driven stories – especially those with a military focus. In many ways, it’s a more traditional style of fantasy than many recent entries to the genre. A recommended read, and I’m looking forward to picking up the sequel.
Published by Orbit
Hardback: 16th July 2019, Paperback: 10th March 2020
The sequel, The Fires of Vengeance, is due for publication by Orbit on the 10th November 2020.