The Rage of Dragons is epic fantasy down to its bones, but has some new ideas that inject a lot of life into the genre. Here’s why you should pay attention.
WiC is a site for fantasy fans, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I, editor Dan, have read my fair share of fantasy books. From The Lord of the Rings to The Witcher to The Wheel of Time and beyond, I try to at least get familiar with all of the big ones, and sometimes that can leave me a little burnt out. Another war drama set in a world vaguely inspired by medieval England? My déjà vu has déjà vu.
Don’t get me wrong: I love that stuff. But it can nice to get a fresh take on the fantasy story every once in a while.
I found that in The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. Originally, Winter self-published this book, but it soon found an audience and got snapped up by a publisher. Reading it, it’s easy to see why. I didn’t love everything about it, but it injects a ton of new life into a genre that sometimes can feel like it’s repeating itself. If you’re looking for a new fantasy book to read, here’s why you should choose this one.
The Rage of Dragons is a page-turner
Epic fantasy series tend to run long. Sometimes it’s because publishers want to stretch out a series to make the most money out of it, sometimes it’s because authors fall so in love with their worlds that they just have to explore every nook and cranny; whatever the reason, fantasy bloat is real, and it can get annoying.
The Rage of Dragons flies in the face of this. This. Book. Moves. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy book so quickly paced as this; I’m not sure I’ve read a book as quickly paced as this.
Right at the top, we’re quickly introduced to our main characters, most notably Tau Solarin. He’s a member of the Omehi, a people who have been engaged in a 200-year-long war to keep their land safe from the native inhabitants of the continent they’ve colonized. Then, pretty immediately, he’s tossed into the fire. I won’t give away everything, but it seems like there are major events happening on every other page. Tau grows by leaps and bounds throughout the book, always learning new things about himself and the world.
I love A Song of Ice and Fire, but sometimes it seems like chapters go by before anything of note happens, especially in the later books. Here, revelations and fights and character development come fast and furious, and it’s kind of thrilling.
The world and its influences are unique
You might think that, in its rush to keep the plot moving, The Rage of Dragons would lose depth, but it doesn’t. Winter has come up with a world as detailed as any in the genre, and what’s more, he’s done it drawing from places we don’t normally see in fantasy. Specifically, he’s taken a lot of influence from Xhosa culture of South Africa, where he grew up. Instead of windswept green hills, the valley of the Omehi is an arid landscape where the sun is beating down all the time. People live in buildings made of adobe, and virtually all the characters have dark skin.
None of this by itself means the book is good, but it’s great to get a change of scenery, and it shows that fantasy books don’t have to limit themselves to one familiar historical milieu to work.
The different setting also means there’s a lot of new vocabulary to learn. It can be a little overwhelming at times, but by the halfway mark I knew the difference between Uhmlaba and Isihogo, an Ihashe and an Ingonyama, and an inkokeli and an unqondisi. If you stick with it, the payoff is well worth it.
It’s a simple story well told
I haven’t actually talked much about the plot yet. Again, I don’t wanna give away too much in case you’re thinking of picking this up for yourself, but it’s not a spoiler to tell you that this is a revenge story.
Early in the book, someone close to Tau is killed, and he vows to avenge them. He enters the Omehi military and spends much of the book training to become a better fighter. Eventually, the scope widens as he learns more about the geopolitics of the region, and about how the Omehi have kept their peninsula safe for the last 200 years with the aid of dragons.
Yes, revenge stories have been done before, as have military dramas. But telling a new one isn’t a problem if it’s done well, and this one is. Tau is a compelling, if challenging, character, a young man so driven by revenge it drives a lot of other, more human considerations from his life, to both his benefit and his sorrow. And while his story is familiar, the context in which it takes place is not. The Omehi live in a society rigidly defined by castes. As a member of a lower caste, called Lessers, not much is expected of Tau, on the battlefield or otherwise. Seeing him rise above those low expectations is satisfying, although Winter doesn’t let him off for the hook for his single-mindedness.
It’s not perfect, though
I’ve been singing the praises of The Rage of Dragons this whole time, but there were things I didn’t like. Remember that breakneck pace I mentioned earlier? It comes with a lot of advantages, but there are drawbacks, too. The story moves so fast, Winter doesn’t spend much time developing the supporting characters, including Tau’s fellow soldiers-in-training. And that’s a shame, because they seem like interesting people. There were times when I wanted the book to slow down a bit and dig into the interpersonal relationships, but it has places to be. This is particularly frustrating with the lone important female character, Zuri. Whenever she shows up, it’s basically to deliver exposition about the mythology.
Finally, the final stretch of the book doesn’t live up to what’s come before. This is when things really open up and we learn what’s happening in the wider world, but the book is barreling ahead so fast we don’t have enough space to breathe and feel the weight of how important it’s clearly supposed to be.
But no book is perfect, and The Rage of Dragons does so much right, and brings in so many new ideas, that it’s still more than worth reading.
A sequel, The Fires Of Vengeance, is coming out later this year, with a couple books after that to complete the story. That means it’s the perfect time to jump on board the hype train if you’re so inclined. I’ll see you there.