To kill an heir is to claim their power. But at what cost?
As the khan’s fiercest headhunters, brothers Subei and Bataar are feared across the steppe. When they’re struck by lightning from a freak storm, however, they awake to find unnatural powers growing within them. And what’s more, they’re not alone.
All across the land other “heirs of the ancestors” have been imbued with these powers. Some call it a gift. Others, a curse. The khan calls it opportunity.
Under the tutelage of two infamous women – one a conqueror, the other a monk – the brothers are sent to the lands of the mighty Zhong empire to hunt heirs and consume their power for the good of the khanate.
With each kill, their powers grow. But so too does something else, boiling beneath the surface until it breaks free in uncontrollable fits of violence. As these so called bloodrages grow stronger and last longer, Subei and Bataar must weigh their duty, and their honor, against the unnatural madness growing within.
Servant of Rage is an exceptionally fun book that reads like a version of Highlander set during the height of the Mongolian empire – but with a lot more magic.
When two brothers are struck by lightning and wake to find that they have inherited devastating magical powers, their khan decides to use them as a weapon to conquer the unconquerable. They accept this, of course. Conquering is what the horde does.
Subei and Bataar are tasked with hunting down and killing others like them so that they can absorb their powers and grow stronger. But with that power comes the bloodrage – a berserker-like trance that demands death and destruction, and makes no differentiation between friend or foe. As these bloodrages grow more frequent and more intense, the brotherly bond between Subei and Bataar becomes strained.
Is it right to conquer, just because you can? Does glory really come from killing others for personal gain?
These are the kind of questions that Servant of Rage asks. Subei is our point-of-view character, and while the first third of the book is full of high-action at a breakneck pace, it very quickly becomes more introspective. He begins to question everything that he’s been taught — as all good fantasy protagonists should — and he grows a lot as a character as the story moves on.
His questions lead to some friction between him and his brother, who sees their terrifying power more as a blessing than a curse. This conflict drives the story forward, as Subei drifts further and further from his brother, his culture, and the man he thought he wanted to be.
As a whole, the book is really quite well-written, with a digestible style that’s perfect for tearing through in a few sittings. If I’m honest, though, I did find the sudden transition from the high-action opening to the introspective middle chapters to be a bit jarring. I felt that the middle of the book was a bit of a drag compared to the rest, and found Subei’s bellyaching about the bloodrage (though justified) to be a little repetitive. Additionally, while Subei himself was a colorful character, the supporting cast sometimes felt a bit more like background noise rather than characters in their own right.
But I don’t want to focus too much on the negatives. What this book does really well is that it takes a simple, relatable conflict and explores that in a very colorful way. I found myself engaged in Subei and Bataar’s relationship, and the action scenes were very visual and exciting – glowing magic death balls and all. The non-western setting was also a plus. I’ve seen Mongolian-esque hordes in fantasy before — in Devin Madson’s We Ride the Storm and Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy — but it still felt like something fresh.
All things considered, I’m a fan of A.Z. Anthony’s book, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for books from him in the future!
If you like books with a lot of energetic fight scenes and cool and destructive magic, then this is the one for you. It’s a very quick read, but that just means it’s easy to slot into your TBR!