Whenever I read a second book in a series I’m always a little concerned it will suffer from that dreaded sophomore slump. This doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a BAD book, just that it isn’t as good as the first. Often this is because it spends a lot of time serving as a bridge between books 1 and 2 and is really just developing character and narrative arcs for the big payoff in the final installment. This is nothing new to us who love to read fantasy and sci-fi series. I’d say we kind of expect it. So, when I sat down to read The Fires of Vengeance I expected a book I’d like, a book that would be entertaining, but a book that would ultimately get me from book 1 to 3 without wowing me. That isn’t what I got.
In The Fires of Vengeance, Evan Winter delivers a book that is even better than his first.
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 must-read epic fantasy series by breakout author Evan Winter.
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.Goodreads Synopsis
If you’d like to read my review of The Rage of Dragons, book one in The Burning series, you can do so here. I will say at the outset that I struggled to write this review not because I disliked the book (quite the opposite), but because I kind of hit a writing slump recently that I’m really struggling with which I hope does not come off as a reflection on the book.
If you want the quick review of The Fires of Vengeance let me say I loved it; the action, magic system, and world building are still great, and the story just gets better. If you want the detail then keep reading.
What I Liked
- Female Characters Shine More
In my review of The Rage of Dragons I noted how the narrative was fast paced and filled with action. That continues in The Fires of Vengeance. Winter just has a knack for ramping up the tension and action in each chapter. You finish one and just HAVE to start another. Before long it’s past your bedtime but you have to read just one more. And though I admit it took me a while to get caught up with some of the world’s vocabulary, once I did everything just flowed swiftly along to one mini plot climax after another up to the very end. Something that really helped with getting caught up in the beginning was an opening chapter that served to recap the events of book one all in the guise of a regular scene.
Winter’s ability to write fantastic action scenes comes to the fore once again. They are intense, thrilling, and visceral. The action scenes are really one of the primary draws of this series for me. And it isn’t just the swordplay that I’m talking about, but also the magic system. Magic in this world packs a punch and really rounds out the one-two combo of the action sequences. Magic is powerful, brutal, and dangerous for the wielder as well as the foe. The shadow realm from which magic is pulled, with its demons who hunt down all who enter just intensifies the gritty and bloody world Winter has conceived.
One area in which The Fires of Vengeance improved upon The Rage of Dragons is with female characters. While female characters existed in Rage they didn’t come into focus very much. That installment was really all about Tau. With Fires the focus is still on Tau but we see more female characters, with more depth, taking on more important roles. These include queen Tsiora, Vizier Nyah, and more. They take on positions as healers, priestesses, advisors, royal guards, and well, queen. As Tau begins to play a larger and ever more important role in his world, these characters add so much more to the narrative; sometimes as ally and sometimes as foil, and sometimes as ruler. Queen Tsiora becomes such an integral character after having very limited exposure previously. I often found my favorite chapters to be those that included her. At times I even found myself wanting more of her story than Tau’s.
The themes present in this series also continue to grab my attention. Two of them stand out prominently, vengeance and caste. As expected Tau’s thirst revenge had not been quenched. Indeed it has only grown in intensity. Not only is he still hoping to kill the person he deems responsible for his father’s death, he has added the deaths of even more friends and lovers to the list. This desire for vengeance at times runs the risk of dismantling what he and his queen have worked for. It clouds his judgement and relentlessly pushes him in a single direction that also threatens his relationships. How Tau manages this quest while also managing his duties to his queen and to his friends becomes an integral part of his story arc and character development. It’s Tau’s recognition that he now serves a larger and more important role, one in which others including the queen rely on him that adds some tense internal conflict. The title of the book is aptly named given the consuming force vengeance is upon Tau.
“Rage is love…twisted in on itself…Rage reaches into the world when we can no longer contain the hurt of being treated as if our life and loves do not matter. Rage, and its consequences, are what we get when the world refuses to change for anything less.”Tau – The Fires of Vengeance p. 138
Caste (noble vs. lesser) also continues to be a prominent theme in this series. And with it one can’t help but see the metaphor for race, and race relations that exist in our world. Nearly every chapter deals with this theme on one way or another, with some characters trying to maintain the current order and others attempting to level the playing field; with one side blind (willfully or otherwise) to the problem and the other struggling to make everyone see the truth. I read The Fires of Vengeance in February during Black History Month and I couldn’t escape this message Winter laid out upon the page.
What I didn’t Like
- Slow Opening Chapter
There was really very little I didn’t like about The Fires of Vengeance. The only thing that really stood out to me was the contrast between the truly epic opening battle scene in The Rage of Dragons and the slow and sedated opening of Fires. Where the one sucked you in and tossed you right into the action the series is coming to be known for, the other was used to serve as a “Story Thus Far,” or a recap of the previous book in narrative form. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciated this narrative tool, and it helped remind me of the story in general and where it left off, but it just didn’t have the thrilling impact of the book one opener. The rest of Fires definitely made up for it though.
To say I enjoyed The Fires of Vengeance would be an underwhelming statement. I loved it. I went in expecting it to be good, but not as good as Rage. What I got was more of what I loved in pretty much every category and some added improvements in others. This isn’t a slow burn of a story so if that’s your jam you might want to look elsewhere. But if you enjoy roller coaster like action, a powerful magic system, and some inspired world building look no further than The Burning Series. I fell deeper in thrall to this riveting tale and am anxiously awaiting the next installment.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Author: Evan Winter
Series: The Burning #2
Publication Date: November 10, 2020