THE RAGE OF DRAGONS by Evan Winter (Book Review)
“To defend against failure, every day must be hard. Every day must strengthen you. For it’s in the crucible of hard days that potential becomes power.”
The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter was originally a self-published debut back in 2017, until Orbit’s acquisition of the book and its re-release in July 2019. I actually own both copies, as the previous year I had been gifted the paperback of the self-published version, and then decided to buy the Orbit edition after seeing the dramatic cover change, and with it being a luxurious hardcover. Now, I have to admit, I’m a fan of both covers; with the self-published one depicting an epic battle with dragons raining fire on all below, it draws me in and sets the scene perfectly! Then the Orbit cover art by Karla Ortiz is stunning too. I mean, a zulu shield with a dragon in its centre, an array of weapons, a mural of warriors; it’s simply elegant and eye-catching. However, I digress. My point here is The Rage of Dragons had my interest for a long time, and I’m kicking myself for having waited so long to read it, because this little beauty of a book goes from strength to strength.
Describing what this book is about is something of a challenge, because there are so many layers, themes and twists that it would inevitably spoil the enjoyment of discovering these and deciphering them for yourself. So let me paint a brief picture for you. The Rage of Dragons is an African-inspired fantasy that depicts the story of the Omehi tribal warriors and their long-fought war against the savages known as the hedeni. Our main protagonist Tau is training to become a competent warrior and join the war front, but with no real passion to become a fighter, he lacks in skill. What follows from there on is a whole heap of tragedy, and an abundance of rage. At its heart, The Rage of Dragons is a remarkable story of revenge and discovering just how far you’ll go to achieve your mission.
Right from the outset Winter throws the reader into a thrilling, action-packed opening which illustrates a fully fleshed-out and realised world. How does he do this? Well, he starts off with a battle; one that is fought with magic, dragons and swords alike, and one which clearly sets the wide scope of the land of Xidda where our story is situated. As soon as you begin reading you find the world building is immense and intricately done. We are introduced to the Gifted, Enervators, Enragers, Ingonyamas and the dark world of Isihogo. To relay what exactly these terms mean would be doing a disservice to any fantasy reader who feels joy at comprehending the magic system for themselves. After all, it is one of the staple elements of the genre.
However, I will say that I was thrilled to see Evan include a glossary. I’m a fully confessed nerd and I love to look up all the little details about various abilities, and therefore I’d definitely encourage other readers to use this too if you find yourself bewildered at first. I will also say that I found the magic system to be on par with the likes of Sanderson (Stormlight Archives) and Miles Cameron (The Traitor Son Cycle), and I for one am awed by Winter’s finesse.
Winter doesn’t just stop at an elaborate magic system, though; oh no. There is also a fully developed hierarchy for the warriors and other members of the Omehi tribe. Again, I won’t go into detail, but just know it creates a lot of division between the assorted castes. This is where Winter introduces a major theme in the book, one that is relevant even today: class prejudice. This is used as the fundamental catalyst that spurs Tau’s journey as he faces discrimination time and time again throughout the whole novel.
‘“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 everyone 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.”’
As much as The Rage of Dragons is a high fantasy tale, it is also a coming-of-age narrative, which I personally find greatly comforting to read. Now, I know this book has been compared to Game of Thrones, but I highly disagree with this. Throughout the novel I loved how Winter’s writing style felt so akin to old school fantasy, such as Robert Jordan, which gave me a lot of nostalgia. Similarly to Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, The Rage of Dragons also incorporates a main character who slowly experiences personal growth, love, loss, hardship, vengeance and a development of skill. However, Winter also injects much African culture, which is stunning to read, and a story arc that could definitely be compared to a more modern series: Pierce Brown’s Red Rising.
I loved this. I loved Tau. He is a character who is never perfect; he isn’t born with inherent skill, nor does he even want to take the path he eventually ends up on. There is no ‘hey presto – a young inexperienced warrior turns into a fully fledged skilful soldier overnight.’ No, there is much gruelling training with his mentor Jayyed, which actually were some of my favourite scenes – Jayyed is a wonderful character. There are also mistakes made that cause dire consequences, there is grief, but then there is also a determination to fight, to be better.
Now, let’s discuss the battle scenes, because these were incredibly exciting. If you’ve been following my reviews for a while or if you know my book tastes, then you’ll know I live for battle scenes, and it felt like The Rage of Dragons was written just for me because there was an abundance of action. At times I did feel that certain strategic moves made by the warriors early on in the book were perhaps a bit too impulsive, maybe even too naive, and therefore situations arose that should have been prevented. Yet these scenes were just so much fun to read, and so gripping that I could easily overlook these minor character blunders. Winter just has this fantastic technique of really drawing the reader in and making them feel the intense atmosphere of the battlefield. We are compelled to feel fear, confusion, anger and the pure will to survive right along with the characters.
I realise this was a really long review, apologies, but I just had so much to say! Let me wrap it up now though because my fellow fantasy fans, there is a book out there you need to pick up right now, it’s amazing, and it’s called The Rage of Dragons.