The Rage of Dragons
by Evan Winter
Published July 2019
You know how so many fantasy books have reluctant hero protagonists? This is not that. Well. The first couple of chapters are. But then Tau decides he’s going to be the BADDEST MOTHERFUCKER IN THIS LAND. Tau is, hands down, one of the most hard-core protagonists I’ve read in a very long time.
Content Warning: Brutal book. I’ll be talking about some of the imagery.
The Rage of Dragons is about determination, combat, and the will to live. I’ve always been wary of books based on “endless war” but this was actually very well thought out, and it makes sense. The Omehi were a people exiled from their homeland; they sailed across the sea to find a new land, and became colonizers. They are thoroughly outnumbered by the native Hedeni, but they have magic. They settle on a peninsula but are unable to push further into the mainland, even with their magic and dragons. The jacket copy says “a hundred thousand years” but the text picks up 186 cycles after the prologue (which covers the initial landing) and I assumed cycles meant years. Jacket copy often exaggerates things, so I’m going with 186 years, not a hundred thousand. It seems more likely.
So in two hundred years, neither side has managed to score a decisive victory over the other; the Omehi have held the territory they carved out for their people, built cities, and farmed land. The Hedeni continue to raid the edges, occasionally pushing further in and wreaking havoc.
The Omehi also have a rigid caste system; the only hint of upward mobility is the Gifted, who come from all castes, and the military, which glosses over some caste restrictions but not all. Tau is a Common who is tired of being shat on by the Nobles, and he sees the military as his ticket to getting vengeance. (Military members can challenge each other to blood duels without repercussions for defeating those of higher castes.)
An interesting point I’d like to make is though several people died to further the main character’s plot, which is usually known as fridging – they weren’t -killed-, exactly. They all had agency. They all took actions they knew could or would end in their deaths, and they did them anyway. So while it is death to motivate the main character, it did not rob them of agency in doing so, so I’m not sure it technically counts as fridging. Even if it does, it was masterfully done and I don’t actually mind it in this context.
There is A LOT of combat and gruesome death in this book. This is a BRUTAL society. People get hurt and even killed in training – hell, they get killed in the TRYOUTS for the military. In one of the first few chapters there is an off-page rape, then victim-blaming and revenge-killing. It’s also rape of a lower-caste by a higher-caste, so there is some brush off there of “oh it’s just a servant” variety. The book does NOT pull punches.
But it’s a truly great book. More than once I stared at the page and said, ALOUD, “Holy SHIT, Tau!” It was easy to see why something snapped in Tau’s soul, and I’m eager to see his character development in book two.
Brutal, vivid, hardcore book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page.
From the cover of The Rage of Dragons:
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.
Young, gift-less Tau knows all of this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down tot he simple life: marriage, children, land.
Until those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fueled by thoughts of 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.