The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter is an epic debut fantasy novel inspired by Africa and Xhosa. Like the flames in Dante’s Seven Circles of Hell or in simpler terms Nando’s Extra Hot sauce, this was a novel I was happy to be engulfed in. I became so invested in the main character Tau’s quest for revenge that I could honestly feel his anger and despair running through my veins. What has made me even happier is that this book is only the beginning of The Burning quartet and I can’t wait for the next book!
Anyway, lemme just take a breath, calm my excitement and explain the synopsis. The people of Omehi have been caught up in a war with the native people of Xidda aka Hedeni people for almost 200 years and as it stands, there have been more losses than victories and it is an unwinnable war. War is something that has been engraved in the people’s minds, which isn’t a surprise considering peace is something that they haven’t seen for many years. Blood has been shed from both sides and is unlikely to stop. The other thing to consider is the issue of castes, so there are the Lessers and Nobles. The Lessers are low born folk who are in simple terms born with a weaker bloodline compared to the Nobles who are of high born blood and treat Lessers like shit. There are also the Gifted, these are lucky women who have the power to call upon dragons and have magical powers.
The story focuses on the character of Tau who is part of the lesser caste, and because he is ranked within this caste he is only expected to have a role as a Ihase who are considered dispensable in their war against the Hedeni people. To become an Ihase however, Tau must pass a test in order to graduate, and if he does not he will become an Ihagu who are considered to be the bottom of the barrel within the military and are sent out into battle first, most likely meeting a grizzely death. Now you’re probably thinking “Hey why not just choose not to make any decision on this” well then that would mean Tau becomes a drudge which is basically considered a worthless slave.
Tau is someone who doesn’t wish to take part in any violence or fighting, he yearns to live a simple life in the keep with the woman he is infatuated with, Zuri who is also a Gifted. So he plans on getting himself badly injured in order to mandatorily get himself out early, and therefore be able to start a family and live a simple life in the keep. However, fate can be cruel, fate can crush open your chest and crush your heart, people who are close to Tau are killed in cold blood right in front of his own eyes. Thus, once a man who could never see himself willingly kill, Tau turns his heart to stone and sets out on the path of revenge against the le who took everything from him. He doesn’t give two f***** who gets in his way all he wants to do is become strong enough, fast enough and powerful enough to crush his enemies. However, everything has a catch, in order to achieve this goal without crossing the illegal line, he must pass the training to go from an initiate to a fully fledge Ihase which in turn would make it legally possible to Challenge those above him and those who wronged him in a bloody duel to the death.
At its core The Rage of Dragons is a fully fledged revenge story and I can honestly say I absolutely loved the fiery intensity of Tau’s quest to become so powerful that his enemies would quiver at hearing his name. At the beginning of his training, Tau isn’t the strongest at all or the fastest, but that fire in his belly for revenge pushes him to be the first one at the training ground and the last one to leave. Soon enough Tau’s hard work begins to pay off as he becomes to a certain extent the Goku of the Lesser caste. Tau knows he can’t alter the fact that he is a lesser or the fact that the Nobles are of royal blood and are bigger than him, but what Tau does do is that he pushes that internal beast within him which drives him forward. Yes he may fall down plenty of times, but Tau gets up each time ready for more and will not give up no matter what. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing, as there are many times where Tau’s emotions make him very brash and get the better of him. It’s like a forest fire, once Tau is devoured by the flame he goes all out and gets lost in it. But this in my opinion is what makes him a great character because boy is he unstoppable once he gets going and I am not surprised if he makes his enemies shit themselves.
So yeah, this is also a story about overcoming the path that has been already set for us and stepping outside of cultural norms handed down to us. The Lessers are destined to be nothing more than, well, less important compared to the Nobles. But what Tau does is switch things up by having the mentality of “hey you think I can’t be stronger than you? Well guess again because I will bring you wrath and I will bring you pain”. Tau shows that determination and his inner strength gives him the upper hand. As main characters go, you can’t help but become invested in his journey and the side characters around him from his fellow Ihase squad members, his love interest Zuri, the Nobles and politicians play key roles in the shaping of the overall story. You’re also probably thinking so erm it’s called Rage of Dragons, talk about the dragons! Well the dragons aren’t used excessively in the story which I thought was great. They appear only when required and when they do show up boy do they leave you with heartburn. The dragons are basically the backup for when shit gets out of hand, the reason being that they leave utter destruction once called upon, even killing the Gifted that control them.
Another thing I loved was the lore and world building. The way the culture and Omehi caste system combines together was really interesting for me. I also loved the idea of the Gifted who have the power to draw in power from the underworld known as Ishigo, and use this to enhance and enervate soldiers into unstoppable fighting machines against their Hedeni enemies. I read Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James this year and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi last year, both of which are African inspired fantasy novels and I loved them so much – it was great to read another one. I really hope I see more in the coming years because I am pretty bored of unseasoned fantasy novels. I wanna see more diversity and more cultural factors.
So overall, I loved The Rage Dragons, from start to finish this book was fast paced and action packed. I could vividly picture the intense skirmishes and scale battles that took place and the training and duelling between fellow scale members. What came to mind were movies like 300 and Lord of The Rings. Evan Winter does a fantastic job in writing these scenes to the extent that it feels like you’re there amongst the flying bodies and debris. There are also a lot of political battles and like Game of Thrones it keeps you on your toes as to who really are your friends and who will stab you in the back. The writing was impeccable to say the least and I can’t fault it at all. I am super hyped for the next book now and the wait is going to test my patience lol.
I’d also like to thank the lovely people at Orbit, especially the Khaleesi of Orbit Publishing Nazia for sending me this book and, allowing me to take part in the book blog tour. I really appreciate you sending me such amazing reads and I feel very lucky and blessed, so thank you so much again.