Really? Another pitch comparing a book to Game of Thrones? What’s that—there’s more?
“GAME OF THRONES MEETS GLADIATOR… ON ARRAKIS”
Oh. Now you have my attention. I’ll give Winter this—he can write some killer copy.
The Omehi are surrounded by enemies that want them dead. They will not be easy prey.
One in twenty-five hundred Omehi women are Gifted, wielding fragments of their Goddess’ power and capable of controlling the world’s most destructive weapon – Dragons. One in a hundred of their men has blood strong enough for the Gifted to infuse with magic, turning these warriors into near unstoppable colossi.
The rest are bred to fight, ferocious soldiers fated to die in the endless war. Tau Tafari, an Omehi commoner, wants more than this, but his life is destroyed when he’s betrayed by those he was born to serve.
Now, with too few Gifted left and the Omehi facing genocide, Tau cares only for revenge. Following an unthinkable path, he will become the greatest swordsman to ever live, dying a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill three of his own people.
That is some quality copy.
And that cover! Does The Rage of Dragons live up to it? As an epic fantasy, it does. Unfortunately, The Rage of Dragons is really two stories spliced together. Winters injects a plodding and frustrating revenge/YA dystopian/military fantasy into the much more interesting epic fantasy.
Winter has created a richly detailed world and he hits us with a ton of detail in the prologue detailing the Omehi landing on the peninsula where the main story takes place 200 years later. They are fleeing something called the Cull. They bring with them Guardians—dragons. Using that and other magical Gifts—Enraging, which makes Omehi men near unstoppable Colossi, and Enervating, which leaves opponents unable to fight—they push the native Xiddeen of the peninsula. 200 years later the war with the Xiddeen hasn’t stopped.
There is a lot going on there. But the prologue also has a massive set piece battle involving dragons. Dragons burninating their enemies doesn’t get old, people. It’s the spoonful of sugar to help the worldbuilding medicine go down. I was mildly critical of the fantasy trope of renaming normal things in my review of Age of Assassins. There is some of that here, but it works better because Winter’s world has got that iceberg feel—the sense that there is much more under the surface than Winter is showing us. This is probably in part of Winter borrowing more from what strikes me as probably African and Mediterranean history than from the more usual European history. The peninsula is hot and arid. The Omehi fight with bronze swords and the Xiddeen often with stone spears.
The later info dumps that explain a lot of what we see in the prologue are a little clunky, but the real problem isn’t with the epic fantasy side of things. The story really bogs down when it drills down in focus on Tau. Events early in the books put Tau on the path of revenge. A well worn but still welcome trope. The initial tragedy certainly leaves us with ample sympathy for Tau. Tau, unfortunately, squanders that sympathy. He isn’t single-minded about revenge so much as half-minded. If he sees one of the men he seeks to take revenge on, he will draw his sword and head over to attack, even if that man is surrounded by twenty crack soldiers and failure would mean death for his entire family (and probably his unit too). Winter could have saved us all some trouble and just named Tau Leeroy Jenkins. Comically, in one scene his internal monologue indicates he will sneak up on his target, only for him to immediately start shouting from ten paces away. He refuses to give even the slightest thought to any consideration of tactics or strategy, even when they would help him get revenge. This sort of thing can be part of an effective arc, and Tau does eventually change, but by then any sympathy I had for him his long gone. What about all of the people around him he has endangered who are actually decent human beings?
All of this takes place while Tau is training to be a part of one of his caste’s military units. So, in addition to the revenge story, there are elements of military fantasy as well. And the caste system is used to show injustice in much the vein of a lot of dystopian YA books. But Tau resists any comaraderie with his fellow trainees (even though they could help him take revenge), and the military side of it isn’t super interesting (it has shades of a sports book or something like Holly Jenning’s Arena too). The inter-caste conflict is more interesting, although Tau is frequently so stupid that he would get screwed by even a fair system, so what does it matter?
Thankfully Winter eventually remembers he is writing an epic fantasy. The endgame is much better than the middle of the book, with enormous set pieces and shocking reveals.
The Rage of Dragons was a book with enormous potential. A few tweaks to the protagonist and a defter hand at the craft and this would have been a great book.
4.5 of 5 Stars as an epic fantasy.
2.5. of 5 Stars as a YA/military fantasy/revenge story.
3.5 of 5 Stars overall.
Winter sent me a review copy of The Rage of Dragons.