Game of Thrones meets Gladiator in this debut epic fantasy about a world caught in an eternal war, and the young man who will become his people’s only hope for survival.
The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.
Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.
There’s so much to say about this book that I’m not entirely sure where to start.
The Rage of Dragons is one of those rare books that I can really see jumping into the stratosphere in terms of popularity. I’m talking face-out in airport bookstores, with the name “Evan Winter” in a font bigger than the title. It’s the sort of book that the right reader will adore. And, well… I guess I’m the right reader.
There’s a lot here that feels familiar. We have a main character, Tau, who is training be a warrior. When those closest to him are murdered, he swears revenge, and dives back into his training with a ferocious determination and devotion. There’s a military school, there are mock battles, and in the background there is a never-ending war.
But it’s the setting that sets this book apart. With an Africa/Xhosa-inspired world, a caste system, a freaky and intriguing magic system, demons, and of course, dragons, this book feels wholly original despite those familiar tropes. Winter shows you just enough to make you want to know more, but never over-explains or drowns you in exposition.
The pacing is bang on the money, too. It ramps up throughout the novel, keeping your eyes glued to the pages as the action gets faster and more intense. But never once while reading did I feel like things were getting too fast. Winter knows where to place his character moments, and knows how to tie them into his fight scenes so that it feels like one continuous, smooth ride. Only Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy has ever nailed that all-action-almost-all-the-time approach for me in the past, and actually, there quite a lot of similarities between Red Rising and Rage of Dragons. From the ever-present anger of the main character, to the team-based war training, to the progression in combat abilities.
Honestly, if you’re a Pierce Brown fan, then you should probably do yourself a favour and just buy this book right now.
I should note that I’ve actually read The Rage of Dragons twice. I picked it up as a self-published book before Orbit acquired the rights, and really enjoyed it on my first read through — though admittedly I did feel that some sections felt a little clunky. But on my second read — this time with the Orbit edition, fresh edits and all — everything was so much smoother. A great book was suddenly a fantastic book, and I don’t know what sort of magic the Orbit editors practiced to make that happen.
I should note that are a couple of things that some readers may not be too fond of, but I don’t know if these are flaws so much as things that will come down to taste. As you’d expect from a book with a single male POV in a male-only military school, women characters are unfortunately in short supply. Those that do show up are well-rounded, and the world is far more gender-equal than most epic fantasies, but this doesn’t change the fact that there might be too few women here for some readers’ tastes. In addition, those readers who have a hard time meshing with “overpowered” characters might want to give this one a miss.
But for those who love to follow a character with a strong sense of progression, to watch them grow stronger, and to rage with them and seethe at the injustices of their world… this is the book for you.
The Rage of Dragons is exciting. It’s action-packed. It has twists, it has growth, it has pain, and it has joy. And it has dragons.
What more do you need?