The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter (The Burning #2)
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.
trigger warnings: blood, gore, death, loss of a loved one, classism, hatred based violence, sacrifical death, prejudice, slurs.
Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a final copy of the Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter. This does not impact my opinion of the book.
The Fires of Vengeance is like a chessboard if such games were made of sleek and scaled dragons, dripping with blood and fire, queens decked out in black scales, chilling handmaidens, and chess players consumed with justice and rage. This story is about understanding how all the players are moving, a game of tactical thought. As you sit there, watching the gory thing play out, you see that every move is calculated. Looking away is to miss something.
We are met once again with Tau, now Chapion of Queen Tsiora. Plots line up, betrayals become visible, the past becomes present. With Queen Tsiora, Tau Solarin helps thwart a plan to replace one queen with a replacement, her sister, Essi. Another glimmering threat in the background. Scratch that. Threats. We are pulled through, and into the fire to see what it is like in this world. How hard it is to see through the pain and see what is.
Perspective is key for Evan Winter. It is what makes this book more complex than simple. Within the narrative is the reminder that violence cannot be easily understood through one man, one hero. The Burning heavily discusses the impacts of cyclical violence and at the heart of it lays in wait the violence that is colonialism, consumed and reguitated and repeated.
What is so brilliant about fantasy is how authors can use narrative techniques to show you how real people living in oppression can also be ignorant of the truth around them. Authors create a world, a secondary one in which to examine the harshness of our own. K.S. Villoso, for example, shows Queen Talyien’s ignorance towards her own people, and the violence enacted by those that inherit atrocities.
Fantasy is not history, and yet it can show you a way to understand the complexity.
“It’s the powerless, having no understanding or experience with how much real power can save or destroy, think too simply. They see things as either right or wrong, but the world and the purposes of those in it are distorted, misjudged when reduced to so basic a binary.”
Narrative techniques, particularly for Evan Winter, are used in the dialogue and text to juxtapose not only Tau’s enemies biases but his own.
“The doors to unwanted truths are rarely locked, since so few wish to face what’s behind them.”
Many people, but especially white americans, ignore that colonialism is not just specific to North America. African nations have very unique experiences and histories with colonialism and cyclical violence. Like a lot of African countries colonizers manipulated people into which groups were superior based on appearance. In Winter’s fantasy novels appearance becomes a reason for superiority or inferitority. Winter’s inpiration greatly deals with with the impact of colonialism specific to African nations. Going into this series, do not look at it through places like America, Canada or Mexico. The Burning series is about asking questions about our own world in a secondary one.
Winter is asking us to question the actions of Tau, our hero, whom in turn asks questions of his own people, the Noble Omehi. As a reminder, the Nobles in Tau’s society are very classist towards Lessers, like Tau. He has fought for his position as Champion of Queen Tsiora. He had to work against prejudice in order to get just as much a chance as a Noble, leading us to the beginning of The Fires of Vengeance.
Evan Winter does not write what we would expect. This is not the Chosen One is oppressed and therefore the good guy. This is not what the author is doing. He’s showing you, key on showing, all the complexities and nuances of cycles of violence, and yes that means that The Chosen One has biases of his own. Why? Because growing up in a society that seeds oppression means not only being victim to it but it also means internalizing that oppression. Winter leans on that narrative.
At the very start of The Rage of Dragons, Winter gives us clues about the Cull and consistently threads hints about these silver skinned monsters that pushed the Omehi to leave in fear for their lives. The reveals in this book, though, bring to light many new realizations.
Are we seing everything? Are we seeing the result of colonialism? It is generally well known that colonialism causes cycles of violence, where the colonized can often become ignorant and oppressors themselves.
This is not a thinly veiled fantasy. You’re not getting some quick and simple answer to complicated problems.
In this book, all the reveals grab onto all those threads from The Rage of Dragons. We get history on the Omehi in their homeland. What exactly happened between them and the point at which they decided to migrate to Xidda? Why do they fear the Cull?
I’m here to see Winter continue to unravel the threads of his world. I want to see the culmination. I am dead set on knowing how people’s biases, including Tau’s, are faced in future books. This book continues to reel in and our hands are bloody at this point but like fantasy nerds, we enjoy the burn.
Speaking of burning, lets talk about Tau and Queen Tsoria.
What I love about this book, though, is how hesitant Tau is in trusting his heart. This book doesn’t knock The Rage of Dragons out of the park. It cuts its head off.
It is no secret from the beginning of The Fires of Vengeance, that Winter has heart eyes for Tau and Tsiora’s future. It is entirely obvious when looking at the way Tau is bashful and clumsy and generally a nerd when it comes to Queen Tsiora.
This book really is just bloody but cute. Tau has always been that person in your life that is in a bit of a bubble. He’s a bit like your bloodthirsty little brother that sees all these problems that affect him but ignores the ones that don’t. And you just want to hit him over the head with it. It’s that type of love for me.
The flirting. Lets talk flirting.
Queen T: i am flirting Tau
Tau: yes what a lovely room which you have asked me guard oh not so subtly. Smiles.
Queen T knows what she’s doing. She’s very obviously trying to be a lady about it but Tau is um…..a bit of an airhead. He needs things to be told straightforward to him. And it’s honestly one of the things that makes their chemistry hilarious. I loved it. I kept smiling whenever they were together.
The characters were vibrant, humorous, and each had their biases to work though. No one person is supposed to be the hero but someone we understand to be the product of something and therefore have their own emotional reasonings. Queen Tsiora’s sister, for example, feels Tsiora is a religious zealout and yet she herself uses the very lingo that religious fantatics use themselves.
In every character, there is a parallel, a critique, a point to be made about another group or person.
As other reviewers have mentioned, the regurgitation of exactly what occurs in the previous book is done through scene. I will be frank. It was tedious and I found myself almost on the edge of wanting to skim read that entire section. K.S. Villoso, also published by Orbit, did something clever other authors could take note of when they would like to remind readers of the previous book. She put in a section of what happened in the previous book for readers that don’t want to re-read the first. It is purely there as a choice and not a necessary section of the book. It is almost like the dramatis personae, completely up to the reader to browse. The problem with Winter’s recap of the last book is that it’s built into a very necessary plot point that becomes integral to the story.
My other criticism is on women.
I am fully in support of all that Evan Winter is doing but I also think it’s important to be critical of the books that we love. I want that to be absolutely clear before I get into this.The Fires of Vengeance is miles ahead of The Rage of Dragons but there are still some places Winter could work on.
Tau looks at women at surface level, even though he seems to be acknowleging Queen Tsiora is more than her beauty. That is development, I’ll admit. But it doesn’t seem to be doing much work as the text is doing with prejudice and cylical violence. It feels rather like Winter expects me to just accept that Tau is young and therefore he’s going to be misogynisitic blah blah blah. It tends be tedious to read a character trying to undo his misogynistic tendencies when that has been an expectation of this genre since the 80s. I need to see the work.
Queen Tsiora is interesting to me. She’s cute/bashful one moment and bloody bad bitch traveling with her handmaidens the next. There’s a scene where Tau describes, bit by bit, what Essi looks like. Everything. It felt a strip tease, and the hero is fantastizing about the beauty of this gorgeous woman in front of him. It felt like that to me. It was uncomfortable.
For me as a reader and as a woman, it’s about balancing attraction and deeper emotions.
The material was layered and overlapping, simulating the appearance of scales, simulating the appearance of dragon skin. The effect was striking, and when Tsiora stepped onto the balcony, she didn’t look like a queen-she was one.
There’s this air of mystery that Winter slowly seduces us into. The Fires Of Vengeance is a violent courtship and it is working.
The Fires of Vengeance really said burn your demons and it was right. I am burned.