THE FIRES OF VENGEANCE by Evan Winter (BOOK REVIEW)
“You call me a monster because I won’t let you treat me like my life is worthless, a thing to be used and thrown away?” He said. “You call me a monster because I refuse to live like you think I deserve? If that’s what you mean by monster, watch me be monstrous!”
The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter proceeds directly on from the explosive ending of the first instalment, Rage of Dragons, a book which absolutely floored me with its brilliance. The lands of the Omehi were left scorched and broken, its people either burnt to death or lying in tormented agony. The dragons may have unleashed their wave of fiery destruction to both sides but through the ashes stood Tau, a man who could not be thwarted, a man who saw his people, his warriors, his beloved destroyed but did not turn away. The war between the Omehi and the Xiddeen is far from over, Queen Tsiora is far from defeated, and once again Tau‘s path for vengeance continues.
Throughout this sequel we follow Tau, now officially named the queen’s champion, as he fights a war on two fronts. A civil war has broken out, Queen Tsiora has been betrayed by her sister, Esi, and Abasi Odili, and seeks to win back her throne. Yet her allies are few and far between, and with the threat of a Xiddeen invasion close at hand, she must unite the whole of the Omehi people and its army under her leadership if she is ever to ensure their survival. As champion, Tau must find a way to achieve this and simultaneously keep the Queen alive. He also has another motivation though, Abasi Odili has taken everything from Tau and the time has come to show him enough is enough.
One of my favourite aspects from The Rage of Dragons was the way Winter explored the themes of power, privilege and prejudice. In The Fires of Vengeance, I was thrilled to discover that Winter deepens these concepts and shows his readers that the history of the Nobles, the more powerful, and the Lessers, the weaker race, is not quite as they have been told. Throughout the beginning Tau, having to now shadow the Queen, is forced to navigate in a world of Nobles where he is constantly reminded of being a Lesser. He is a character you have to admire for his determination to prove to the Nobles that he can be just as worthy, strong and resilient as they are. No matter his birth. For that alone, I rooted for Tau every step of the way.
“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.”
Then when Queen Tsiora reveals the true heritage of the Nobles and Lessers, and shares her visions for the future, Tau struggles to trust, or hope, for a future without prejudice because he doesn’t believe one can exist. He so desperately wants change but in his eyes it’s an unreadable dream. I loved the way Winter incorporated many philosophical layers to the narrative – how much of history can be or is rewritten? Can one race legitimately be superior to another? Winter continuously posed the question – who is the better, stronger person, the one who endures hardships and fights with every ounce of strength they can muster, or the one innately born of privilege and power?
However Tau is a character who is not without his flaws. During The Rage of Dragons he was a single visioned kind of character, his desire for revenge blinded him of the bigger picture, of what was at stake. His desire for revenge does not ease in The Fires of Vengeance, yet Tau does begin to realise what he could lose, of who he could put in danger. Winter gives us a relentlessly fast paced book, one where a battle for retribution and for love go hand in hand. Our poor Tau never manages to catch a moment of peace. At every turn he is filled with torment, pain, grief, he suffers many hardships until he begins to teeter just on the edge of his own downfall. As much as anger scorches the pages of this book, so too does sadness. The themes of friendship and found families run strong throughout, and it was heartbreaking to see those around Tau have so much faith in him, but he could not have faith in himself.
Although Tau’s vengeance is still at the forefront of the narrative, we begin to view what is at risk for the entire Omehi people, and that fragile line between who is right and wrong becomes ever more blurred. A much welcomed addition to this sequel was finding several chapters from Esi, Tsiora’s sister, and from Tsiora’s POV too. Seeing the conflicting sides between these two broadened my perspective and gave some much needed focus on the female characters too. I would have gladly read more from both of these headstrong women. One of my favourite aspects of reading is when an author is able to pull at my emotions, and what I loved about The Fires of Vengeance was that Winter threw my empathy towards both sides. A question lingered on well after I closed the pages of this book: who was truly the usurper and who had been usurped?
We also glance a deeper look into the mysterious realm of Isihogo, the demon world, a place where Tau and his warriors trained to hold the demons at bay, buying precious time in battle for the Gifted to work their powers. These were truly some of the most exhilarating scenes, and Winter left me desperately longing to learn more about one demon in particular.
In short, The Fires of Vengeance is an African inspired fantasy where you will become enraptured by a battle of Lessers against Nobles, dragon against dragon, demons against Tau and his Ayim. Without a doubt, Winter is an author who will never allow you to catch your breath.
“The things worth fighting for die in darkness if we’ll only defend them in the sun.”
Review copy provided by Nazia at Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. The Fires of Vengeance is out now!