THE RAGE OF DRAGONS / AUTHOR: EVAN WINTER / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / RELEASE DATE: JULY 18TH
With so many clever and original fantasy novels hitting the shelves seemingly every day, sometimes you just want a story that goes off like a rocket and never actually stops. The Rage of Dragons is Evan Winter’s debut novel and like the name implies, it starts off with an angry explosion and carries on in the same vein throughout. We open with the Omehi (aka The Chosen) people in dire straits. Having fled some distant disaster in their homeland, they have invaded the lands of the Hedeni who are fighting back with some force. The Omehi use their deadliest weapon, Dragons summoned from the ether.
It’s a staggering and gripping opening. The story then moves on a generation or so. The Omehi live in constant conflict with Xiddeen, which means their culture is very much focused on war. Both sides have magical abilities and these run through bloodlines. Which means the society is feudal, with those families of ‘purer’ blood have all the influence, because they have the potential for better powers.
The bulk of the story focuses on Tau Solarin. When we first meet this young man, he has his world figured out. He’s going to marry Zuri, get out of military service and live happily ever after. It swiftly goes horribly wrong, with all his dreams stomped on by the arrogance of others and the harsh realities of his society’s rules and privileges. Vengeance and a better life are his goals, but survival his priority. And he has to work very hard to stay alive. Tau is thrust into conflict after conflict, to his dismay and the reader’s delight.
Winter draws from multiple sources to create a complete world. The author is apparently inspired heavily by Xhosa culture and the aesthetic and style of the setting feels new and interesting. It is both fascinating and universal in its appeal, though it does suffer from wasting too much time on explaining simple things in complex ways.
Though it opens well, has a great middle act and has a gripping ending, the pacing of the novel isn’t brilliant. Winter chooses to get bogged down in world building a little bit too much, bringing in scenes that improve engagement but don’t really entertain. These breaks in the story are a little obvious (and aren’t common), but they feel like padding. Winter really, really wants us to know how often Tau fails and how bad he’s feeling about his situation. That, coupled with the sort of court politics we’ve seen in countless ‘magical royalty’ stories means that parts are a slog.
But just as you’re about to put the book down, something thrilling happens. Usually it’s something violent because this book drips in blood. When Rage of Dragons hits its stride, it’s a thrilling, explosive read.