Author: Evan Winter
Release date: 10 November 2020 (US); 12 November 2020 (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Grimdark, Military Fantasy
Desperate to delay an impending attack by the indigenous people of Xidda, Tau and his queen craft a dangerous plan. If Tau succeeds, the queen will have the time she needs to assemble her forces and launch an all-out assault on her own capital city, where her sister is being propped up as the ‘true’ Queen of the Omehi.
If the city can be taken, if Tsiora can reclaim her throne and reunite her people, then the Omehi might have a chance to survive the coming onslaught.
About one year after his blazing debut The Rage of Dragons, Evan Winter makes his return with The Fires of Vengeance – and makes good on the unspoken promise of blood its predecessor had offered. Bluntly speaking, The Fires of Vengeance is a book that is best described as The Rage of Dragons on steroids.
I loved The Rage of Dragons, but I had not featured the book in my blog nor my other social media so imagine my surprise when Orbit Books approved my request for The Fires of Vengeance – I hit that “Request” button on a total whim! At this point I was ready to devour it all in one go, but of course I had no idea what was coming. It took 3 days for me to finally finish the book – and y’all best believe this is some of the most intense books I’ve read in 2020.
The Fires of Vengeance picks up right where The Rage of Dragons left off, with the main character, champion Tau Solaris, and his queen Tsiora left to navigate the aftermath of both the Xiddeen invasion and the betrayal of the queen’s council. Queen Tsiora must attempt to find a way to reconcile with the Xiddeen after their planned peace fell apart, in order to unite both the Omehi and the Xiddeen to eventually face the Cull her Ancestors had warned about. Tau, on the other hand, must come to terms with his new role as the Queen’s Champion, and what that means with his relationship with her as he is a Lesser and she a Noble.
The war, however, is far from over. With Tau still seeking revenge for both his father and his many sword-brothers’ deaths; and the queen seeking to reunify the Omehi split apart by her council’s betrayal and their championed queen her sister, the pair faces enemies from multiple fronts with very little time to plan their next move.
First of all, can we appreciate the fact that The Fires of Vengeance immediately opens with a recap chapter? Sure, it is delivered mostly as a monologue from one character to another – but this was immensely helpful for me as I didn’t remember all the details from The Rage of Dragons. Having a chance to quickly catch up on which ones are important for context in this book spared me the necessity of re-reading the first book, a task I wasn’t sure I was ready to undertake as it matched R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War in intensity and gravitas. Samantha Shannon’s upcoming The Mask Falling (one of the 2021 titles I’m ECSTATIC for) is also said to have a recap chapter to help keeping readers up to speed, especially since binge-reading the series while pleasurably tempting, may not necessarily help retain all the important details. This really should be a trend in epic fantasy series.
I mentioned earlier that The Fires of Vengeance is best described as its predecessor The Rage of Dragons in steroids. This is true in every aspect. The battle scenes in this book are more chaotic and bloodier than ever, and the character-driven moments are truly electric. True to its name, vengeance is the running theme of this book and it is a tumultuous driving force to the events in its story. It was truly exhilarating to witness how this force affects everything ranging from relationships to the skirmishes in this book, for better or worse.
The Rage of Dragons had mostly focused on Tau’s quest for revenge, which is still ongoing in this book with one last target to kill. For most of the book, Tau retains his single-track mind and his decisions made in that interest result in devastating consequences amongst his peers. The Fires of Vengeance forces Tau to truly reckon with the consequences of his actions and pry his attention to larger matters. With Tau, one problem ends and another forms – and this poses a problem for his partnership with Queen Tsiora as her Champion, a matter their peers never fail to astutely address. I appreciate how while everyone has vengeance on their minds for one reason or another, Tau is held especially accountable for his actions as his actions prove to be one of the major devastating forces throughout the book. This is made even more profound with the inclusion of one of the antagonist’s POV chapters in the second half of the book, in which their Lesser vs Noble status prejudices are somewhat justified in Tau’s more monstrous actions. This forced me to wonder who’s truly the villain in this book since the conflict ultimately boils down to the fact that both sides are convinced that they are right and the other is misguided. Not only does this convey Tau’s morally questionable character, this shines a light on Winter’s talent for characterization. The Burning series, the first half at least, can be described as a tragedy for the Omehi’s inability to find unity amongst their own classes, let alone with the Xiddeen – and Tau’s revenge story is just a part of it.
The Fires of Vengeance expands beyond Tau’s revenge story and highlights Queen Tsiora’s quest to unify the Omehi and the Xiddeen – in which the world and the mythology of Uhmlaba and Isihogo are fleshed out and we learn more about the concept of Lessers/Nobles, the demons as we are reminded of the true villains of the series and the impetus of all that has happened. The stakes are constantly driven to new heights from multiple fronts, and it is only a matter of time before Tau’s never-ending vengeance inevitably intersects with the threat of the Cull in a spectacular fashion.
Winter also ramps up his game in battle scenes. The violence in this book gets more brutal and destructive, as Tau’s wrath left blood in his path and starts another devastating cycle of vengeance. As Petrik from Novel Notions aptly summarises in his review of The Fires of Vengeance, “vengeance begets vengeance, blood begets blood, [and] death begets death.” While the duels are spectacular, Winter never forgets to serve gut-punching reminders of the sorrow and loss left in Tau’s wake. There is a particularly hard-hitting moment that is as haunting and brutal as the infamous massacre scene in R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War.
Winter’s well-written, vivid action sequences hit a lot harder because of his emphasis to emotional conflicts: he gradually builds up emotional tension, and proceeds to combust it in immersive violent skirmishes. He also lets us empathize with various sides of the battle, enabling us to grasp the horror and the gravitas of the important themes he attaches to his story.
Relationships play a very important role in this book, and I am thoroughly impressed with how much character work is beautifully written amongst the chaos. Winter leaves out no one neglected as he pulls off the range of emotion and defining moments of various characters, even minor ones. The bond between several characters are fascinating to read: Tau’s relationships with his father Aren and his mentor Jayyed continue to define Tau’s character in a powerful and heartbreaking way; Tsiora and her vizier Nyah’s bond is preciously ride-or-die; Tau, Hadith, and Uduak together are a hoot; Tau and Jabari’s strained relationship is riveting to witness; and our bonding protagonists Tau and Tsiora themselves have of the most beautiful chemistry. Even the antagonists in this book are shown to love, hate, and cherish all the same. There is much love and much loss, and it all makes things worth fighting for.
When I first read The Rage of Dragons, I was captivated with Winter’s brutal and dramatic writing. With The Fires of Vengeance, he takes everything from The Rage of Dragons and ups his game in an exceptional sequel that manages to outperform its predecessor. Everything is bloodier, chaotic, and more violent, the scope is bigger, the stakes are higher, and the storytelling is bolder and better than ever. Everyone struggles to adapt to the new, yet tumultuous reality where everything can crumble to pieces at any minute and everything they thought they knew are challenged. Along with the new reality, Winter forces his characters to make drastic choices as they’re cornered and live with their consequences as the quest to unite the Uhmlaba continues. The Fires of Vengeance is truly some of the most exhilarating, intense, and emotionally compelling books I have read in 2020 and this has utterly convinced me to continue reading The Burning series to its conclusion.
Second-book syndrome who?
The Fires of Vengeance is available for pre-order, set for official release on 10 November 2020 (US) and 12 November 2020 (UK).
My many thanks to NetGalley, Orbit, and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing an e-ARC of this book for an honest review.