Book Review: The Rage of Dragons

Book Review: The Rage of DragonsThe Rage of Dragons (The Burning, #1) by Evan Winter
Published by Orbit on July 16th 2019
Pages: 544
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three-stars

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.

I can honestly say I’ve never encountered a world in a fantasy novel quite like the one in The Rage of Dragons. I stumbled upon this novel in a Barnes and Noble, and was immediately attracted by the cover, but mostly the description of the world:

 

“The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for a hundred thousand 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.”

 

Any book that promises women’s ability to call upon dragons is an immediate must-read to me.I was really disappointed that a book titled The Rage of Dragons did not actually offer much interaction with these promised dragons, and that what small appearances the mythical beasts did make were unfortunately ones of servitude. But ultimately, the true shining part of the novel is not the dragons, but the interesting and truly unique world-building and the caste-system that main character Tau Solarin rages against.

 

“I can’t imagine a world where the man holding a sword does not have the last say over the man without one.”

 

Set in an African-inspired world, main character Tau grows up in a society that revolves entirely around war. Divided into Lessers and Nobles, all of the Omehi must fight in a war against savage Hedenis that has transpired for centuries. Sadly for Tau, a Lesser, the highest he can climb in the caste system is as part of the Ilhashe, the elite fighters and soldiers of the Lesser castes. At worst, he can refuse to join the war and end up a Drudge, or a casteless servant. Either way, his society dictates that Tau must fight in their losing war or face the consequences. Born weaker and smaller than the Nobles of the Omehi, Lessers can never hope to overturn or to join the ranks of the Indlovu, the elite fighters and soldiers of the Noble castes. But in his quest for revenge, Tau challenges everything his society his society has ever known before.

 

Though Rage of Dragons creates a rich and believable world divided not only by class, but also by war, I really struggled with reading the endless battle descriptions and skin deep character development–much of which took place on the battlefield in between descriptions of moves. Honestly, the novel is 90% battles and training. It got very tedious to me, but other readers may find these same battles exciting. I, however, never really was able to doubt Tau’s ability to succeed in these battles, and as a result, felt that they lacked suspense or climax. Often, I found myself skimming through the majority of these battles, to when he undoubtedly won and everyone told him how great he was at fighting, but what a stupid, risk-taker with a heart of gold he truly was. 

 

And it’s not just Tau that feels like a character we’ve met before–every character in the book feels ripped straight from an archetype. As such, I regularly felt detached from the events and the characters, because I felt like I had already experienced what was happening before. It was redundant to see Tau tirelessly train, to never give up despite the odds, and to continue to ignore the very sound advice of everyone around him. I sighed at his countless rash actions that threatened his battle brothers, love interest, and leaders. He never really changes or grows as a person, despite growing physically stronger. If Tau had been a female character, he would have undoubtedly been dubbed a “Mary Sue.” He is the first Lesser, who lacks any and all supernatural powers due to his birth, to enter the Ishiogo, the demon-world, of his own volition. He enters this world in order to fight and to die repeatedly to demons in order to become supernaturally strong in his incessant quest for revenge. This allows him to repeatedly defy societal norms and to conquer Nobles in battle that he should not be able to stand a chance against.

 

This also applies to Tau’s backstory, which felt like something I had seen time and time again. Tau is brought up by his father, the sword trainer of the Petty Nobles of the village and the inkokeli, or leader of the Ilhashe scale, as well. Tau is raised by his father, the archetype of a selfless soldier who sweats and bleeds discipline and honor. As training partner to a Petty Noble his father is training, Tau grows up seeing a Petty Noble as his best friend and equal. This typical rivalry between the childhood friends instils the unfairness of the caste system, but also the sense that Tau can somehow overcome the injustice of it all and stand on equal footing the his friend and the rest of the Nobles. When his View Spoiler »] it is then that Tau, a kid from a small town in the middle of nowhere, sets out for the big city on his path for vengeance and gets help from his enemies, who of course, turn into allies and later friends.

 

Though much of The Rage of Dragons makes it difficult to feel attached to its characters or events, I, frankly, loved everything in the novel having to do with the truly unique Ishiogo, or demon world, and the Gifted women. These women harness the powers of Ishiogo not only to call down dragons, but to also create super-powered noble fighters called Ingonyamas, to battle against their enemies, and to bind men to their will, or to simply drag them to hell as well. These women rank higher than any other Nobles, which creates an interesting, but also tried-and-true star-crossed lover component when Tau’s girlfriend, Zuri, joins the ranks of the Gifted. Unfortunately, like Tau and the other cast of characters, Zuri falls victim to the same mediocre character development that plagues the novel. 

 

Zuri’s main purposes are being beautiful and kind, Tau’s girlfriend, and the explainer of all things supernatural. Sure, we are told she is powerful, but we never experience her point-of-view or training, and she remains a plot device to Tau on his quest to become the best Lesser fighter ever. Ultimately, I was left unmoved by Zuri’s romance with Tau, which falls flat as Zuri never felt like anything closely resembling a real person, and if anything, felt more like a convenience for the plot. Similarly, her View Spoiler » left me unaffected as she never contributed much to the story other than to reveal things to Tau that he couldn’t have known otherwise in what feels like the novel’s relentless goal to make Tau slightly more tortured, heroic, and more special than everyone else. I simply could not feel Tau’s losses or disappointments, as they are dealt with so quickly and buried in descriptions of the battlefield, and continually feel like mere bumps in Tau’s road to get where he is going.

 

Despite the novel’s major flaws in character development, I still somehow remained invested in The Rage of Dragons, largely in part to its unique and strong world building. I feel that a lot of The Rage of Dragons was simply build up for the next novel. With View Spoiler » I’m cautiously excited to see where the series goes next–especially with the glimpses of power the Queen showed in the Prologue of the story. If the next novel sticks to its strengths of world-building and the interesting supernatural aspects, and works to make its characters more multidimensional rather than archetypes, readers will certainly be in for a treat. 

 

three-stars
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Posted December 9, 2019 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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