Book Review: The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter

Afro-futurism has been A Thing for a while, breaking out into broader culture with the Black Panther movie from a few years back. And, since Sci-Fi and Fantasy are interconnected genres, it makes sense that afro-fantasy (is that the proper term?) has also grown in popularity, with works like Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and, for this week’s book, Evan Winter’s The Rage of Dragons.

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I first heard about Evan Winter while perusing various fantasy sci-fi book reviews on Youtube, and pretty much everyone had nothing but good things to say about his debut novel, The Rage of Dragons. That, combined with the fact that Winter self-published the book before getting scooped up into a book deal by Orbit books, got me curious. And here we are!

The Rage of Dragons immediately marks itself as different from ‘standard’ fantasy with its setting, which is inspired by bronze age West Africa instead of Ye Olde Timey Europe With Wizards and Stuff. It takes a little bit to get used to the different setting, particularly with some of the terms Winters tosses around.

The book centers on a young man named Tau, who grows up in a militarized, caste-based theocracy (that also has dragons) that’d pretty much be the villains of any other book. The plot really gets going when Tau’s father is murdered, and so Tau swears he will become the kingdom’s greatest swordsman and so he can get reveeeeeenge on the obligatory evil vizier-guy responsible. It’s kind of interesting that Winters has such an original setting, but more straightforward plot.

This isn’t to say the plot is bad, mind you. Winter is a talented writer, and he does a good job of keeping things moving at a fairly brisk pace. A good chunk of the novel is devoted to Tau’s obsessive training– kind of reminded me of an old Shaw Bros kung fu flick, in that respect. Of course, Tau’s quest for revenge gets complicated once he stumbles into conspiracy and politics. But the various machinations are mostly there to give Tau an excuse to fight.

And he fights a lot. The Rage of Dragons is possibly the sword-fightiest book I’ve ever read. Like, literally, there’s some kind of fight or another every third chapter or so. They’re almost always specifically sword fights, to boot. Though honestly one of my little quibbles about the setting is that the militarized caste-based theocracy is exclusively focused on sword-and-shield soldiers, when spears are easier to make and use in a combined formation, but that’s just me being a nerd.

Winter manages to make each fight unique at least in terms of its stakes, and he’s got some clever business with a demon-infested dream world that allows for even more variations on fighting. It’s almost … too much swordfighting? Which is something I never thought I’d say about a book. Like, after a bit, some of the battles begin to blend together, and honestly Winter could have probably cut out some stuff in the middle without impacting the plot too much.

Still, the near-constant battles give The Rage of Dragons a snappy pace. It takes a little while to get going, but once it does, the novel turns into a quick but compelling read. I wouldn’t call The Rage of Dragons a perfect novel by any means, and it may be a bit grim and gory (though not hopelessly grimdark) for some readers, but it’s still all and all pretty fun. If you’re a fan of oldschool swords & sorcery a-la Howard or Lieber, you could do worse than giving The Rage of Dragons a go. And since Orbit picked Winter up for a four-book deal, with the second book out already, I’ll look forward to seeing where this series goes, ‘cause there’s a lot of room to explore the plot and the setting. Should be fun! Or, well, as fun as a book about a revenge-obsessed swordsman can be.

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