The Fires of Vengeance: Best served cold

Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsFires of Vengeance by Evan Winter science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter

The Rage of Dragons was a well-realized and propulsive debut for author Evan Winter, though the main character was such an Edgy Boi™ that he could probably have gone ice dancing without skates. Winter’s gifts for pacing and his novel world-building nevertheless left me with a good impression, and when I saw that the sequel was available, I immediately purchased a copy. To be clear, there are relatively few series that I buy on release day anymore, so it says something about Winter’s abilities that I felt instantly motivated to continue THE BURNING.

For the most part, The Fires of Vengeance (2020) is your typical fantasy sequel in that it’s more of what worked the first time around while also clearly being a transition to the next Big Thing. Following the events of the last novel, Tau Solarin has been named champion to the beautiful Queen Tsiora, the first member of the Lesser caste to hold this distinction. The kingdom remains under attack, but before they can deal with their perennial enemies, Tau and his allies must instead put down a revolt by Tsiora’s sister and her lover (who also happens to be the man who killed Tau’s father). The trouble is, the enemy seems to hold all the cards, and only a very clever plan and some luck could give them victory before the queen’s forces are crushed between hammer and anvil.

Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsOn the face of it, this book has all the makings of the dreaded Second Novel Slump. Like many first novels, The Rage of Dragons left very little on the table plot-wise, going out with the kind of unrestrained grand finale that leaves its successor forced to do some morning-after clean-up. Things are a bit slower this time, less dramatic, and Winter has to spend a good bit of page space on setup. This situation has often been a recipe for failure in previous action-oriented Heroic Fantasy series, but Winter proves himself adaptable enough to pull it off. Perceiving that there’s no way to keep the party going at the same raucous level he left off on, he wisely leans into a slower burn from the get-go, and (despite the book’s name) pivots to an extent from Tau’s “muh vengeance” plotline onto a more political thriller. Having made the transition, he then brings his considerable gifts with pacing to bear, and the novel emerges as gripping and easy-reading as its predecessor.

That’s not to say things are perfect. Winter realizes that maintaining his suspense requires things to go wrong for the protagonists, but he has a habit of lobbing whatever comes to mind at them, whether it does anything thematically or not. For instance, while some of Tau’s personal misfortunes genuinely do feel like spurs for growth or results of his flaws, just as many seem to be simple examples of “shit happens.” I realize that a protagonist like this one needs plenty of grist for the Angst Mill, but some of it just seems so random. He gets a limp early on and it’s presented as literally the most debilitating limp anyone could ever have. Go-crazy-and-die levels of bad. He got it while performing his duties perfectly, and the injury is effectively cosmetic ever after. I mean… come on, Evan. There’s torturing your protagonist, and then there’s actually just torturing your protagonist.

Evan Winter

Evan Winter

That said, the slower pace this time around affords Winter the opportunity to pull back and give us some more thoughtful work on the characters, which is much appreciated. His African-inspired world-building has always been a big plus for the series, but he takes the opportunity to deepen the reader’s understanding of the setting and lore this time, with fascinating results. Likewise, some of the side characters gain some greater nuance this time around, and Winter plays with interesting new perspectives (toward the end, he makes a very ambitious choice on that score that may not appeal to everyone, but which I whole-heartedly loved). While the book is called The Fires of Vengeance, I’d actually say that should have been the title of the first novel. The flames are banked in this one, giving way to a cooler, clearer-headed perspective. Even noted “man too angry to die” Tau Solarin manages to do some wry self-reflection.

Overall, while it could do more to tie plot and characterization, The Fires of Vengeance is a well-crafted and worthy successor to its action-packed predecessor. Winter demonstrates a firm hand on the tiller, and leaves my appetite whetted for the next installment in THE BURNING.

Published in November 2020. In order to reclaim her throne and save her people, an ousted queen must join forces with a young warrior in the second book of this”relentlessly gripping, brilliant” epic fantasy series from a breakout author (James Islington). Tau and his Queen, desperate to delay the impending attack on the capital by the indigenous people of Xidda, 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 if she can reunite her people then the Omehi have a chance to survive the onslaught.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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