The first two books in Evan Winter’s The Burning series, The Rage of Dragons and The Fires of Vengeance, are the beginning of a series that is intended to span several more books—setting a new standard for modern fantasy in the process.
A World on Fire
Winter tells the story of the Omehi, a people driven from their homeland by an invading force and made to take refuge on Xidda, where they have warred with the native Xiddeen for centuries. While the Xiddeen outnumber the Omehi, the Omehi have sorcerers, called Gifted, who are able to summon dragons, empower their warriors, and more, evening the odds in the ongoing conflict.
The protagonist of the series, Tau, is a Lesser in the highly stratified Omehi society, who, after a great personal tragedy, vows to take vengeance on members of the Noble caste. While Nobles are larger, stronger, and faster than Lessers, Tau is able to overcome these differences by putting his sanity and soul on the line and training in Isihogo, the demon plane.
He is raised up as a warrior and given the opportunity to redefine the place of Lessers in the Omehi society while seeking his revenge and serving the young queen of the Omehi, Tsiora.
Without getting too into the weeds, that’s the basic setup of the novels. If it seems like there’s a lot to keep track of, trust me: there is. However, Winter is such an incredibly skilled worldbuilder that it doesn’t matter. It can be disorienting at first, but after a few chapters you’ll be rattling off the terms he’s baked into the series like it’s your mother tongue.
The series is influenced by Xhosa culture, giving it a unique flavor that helps it stand out in the modern fantasy field. Winter has taken aspects of his heritage and seamlessly built out a brilliant, entrancing world filled with fire and blood, political intrigue, and a system of magic that is costly, tangible, and endlessly fascinating.
The Burning brings these elements together to tell a story that tackles class, primarily, but also loyalty, duty, love, and sacrifice. It’s a rich tapestry that’s woven from Tau’s perspective, with chapters occasionally switching to another character’s POV to give readers additional insight into the world or the stakes of a given moment.
These outsider POV chapters are interspersed throughout both books and keep the narrative fresh—not that it ever goes stale without them—and allow Winter to give readers the most dramatically satisfying take on a given event when that wouldn’t naturally belong to Tau.
Reading these books feels, in many ways, like watching your favorite episode of your favorite TV show: the stakes keep getting higher, the drama keeps getting more delicious, and you’re constantly fearing a hard cut to credits, an end to the tale unfolding in front of you before you’re fully satisfied, but Winter keeps on giving readers the goods—until he doesn’t and you have to wait three more years for the next installment in the series to drop.
There’s a clear-eyed humanity to Winter’s writing, and both books are filled with empathy for their characters—even the “villains”—that humanizes them and gives every encounter, every death, weight.
The story being told is unforgiving, and Winter has proven himself a master of upending the status quo, laying waste to our heroes’ best-laid plans, and exceeding expectations. Of course, he does this by condemning characters to grisly deaths by flame and by blade, without ever numbing his audience to their fates.
The Rage of Dragons was named one of the 100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time by Time Magazine—deservedly—and I have no doubt that as The Burning continues it will carve out a place for itself as one of the finest achievements in all of fantasy.
This is Must-Read Fantasy, the kind of series you’ve been waiting for, something that will endlessly thrill and surprise, while simultaneously breaking your heart. I don’t use the word “unputdownable” lightly (mostly because I think it’s weird), but I can’t think of another way to describe the experience of reading Winter’s first two novels; they literally cannot be set aside, demanding your full and undivided attention until the last sentence.
If you’re interested in the other books we’re geeking out over, check out Geek Guy Buys: Read!
You can also take a look at the last Fantasy Fix installment here.