Review: The Fires of Vengeance (The Burning #2) by Evan Winter

Rating: 10/10

Synopsis

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.

Review

The Fires of Vengeance is the stunning sequel to The Rage of Dragons; this is a tale of burning hatred, of how far the blazing wrath of hurt, fear and loss can drive someone. This is the story of what happens when a weapon is forged in oppression and how those who take control—who rise-up—have to struggle to stand on the platform they’ve built themselves, with enemies, poison-spitting inyokas, poised to take it back from them. Pair that with Winter’s unparalleled ability to make it matter, to build a world and people you dearly care for, then rend that asunder with very human struggles, and you have this masterpiece. The Fires of Vengeance is vigorously face-paced, unapologetically gripping, a thrill-ride with the stakes plastered at every stop.

Tau, what a pleasure it was to see you again, my friend; it seems like you’ve not had time to rest but that wouldn’t be within the author’s remit: One of the things I like the most about Winter’s books is the unending trials and tribulations of his characters. Tau is battered, tired from the last fight, and yet there is more to come. This is a hero in real-life. There are no health potions, no rest stops, just raw strife. Each page of the book tells a story nuanced in the voice of Tau’s burning passion; the prose is elegant when it needs to be, snappy, vicious when it wants to be and damned-well intriguing all of the time. It won’t relent, not while there’s a cause left to fight for.

The plot takes place in the hours, or days, just after the last one. It almost takes you into a seamless entrance from the last; the Xiddeen have given them some reprieve, but Esi (Queen Tsiora’s sister) and her new Champion and Tau’s archenemy, Abasi Odili, have Palm City and won’t let it go without a fight. A lot happens in this book, some things that flash up and quickly go to the back of your mind, only to be revealed in the last pages. There’s a good amount of bait and switch in these pages where you’re cleverly distracted from bits of plot only to regret that when they come to surface. Largely, this is a story of one man’s vengeance, but Winter manages to add political intrigue and mystery while stoking the flames of the main plot which ties nicely into lore and stories that have been told since the first pages of the first book.

Fighting, there’s lots of it. Those in particular that Tau is part of are works of art; I’m sure I read somewhere, maybe a Tweet, that Winter acts out sword-swings in his office when he needs a clearer view of what he is writing. And, while it is funny to imagine the author prancing around next to the computer screen, the results of this are fantastic, clear, technically-realised fights that beat with the thumps of your ever-increasing heartbeat. Fantasy is best seated in the believable and the fights truly are believable. Tau is supposed to be the pinnacle of what an athlete can achieve, and I believe every word of it.

Everything culminates into a latter half of the book that tore my heart out in places (even as I read a scene in my office at work, I struggled to not tear up.) That was because throughout the book I’d been led to care what happened. The character relationships are so well done that you don’t realise you’ve been swept into their emotive state until it’s too late. At the end of the book, I really did love the chapters written from other POVs—we didn’t see much of this in the first book and it was a welcome addition. Seeing Tau from different positions within the world was so damned amazing. It isn’t until you look at him in another light that you see how horrifyingly spectacular he is. Then the end hits which is when the carefully laid world-building spikes and at only the utterance of a few words, a shiver ran down my back and the goosebumps hit. Truly, I can’t put into words how that makes me feel for the next instalment.

Overall, I need the third book NOW. Why do this to your readers, Evan? I mean come on, man. When is it out and who do I need to bribe to get it already? My advice is don’t wait to get this one—go and hassle (no don’t) your local bookseller for it. Without a doubt, I won’t read a book as good as this one was for this rest of the year.

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