Gladiator Meets The Count of Monte Cristo in the African-Inspired Fantasy Epic The Rage of Dragons

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The Rage of Dragons, the debut epic from self-publishing success story Evan Winter, distinguishes itself by its setting, a fantasy world inspired by Africa, but truly impresses with its storytelling. It weaves a tale of determination, love, revenge, and war that is, at its core, the story of one young man who, even as he seeks to improve his life by learning the art of war, must grapple with deadly politics, powerful magic, and a threat that could destroy an entire civilization.

The novel starts off with a obligatory prologue that provides essential background information in the guise of an action sequence, as a colonizing force fights to establish a foothold on a unknown, hostile continent: Queen Taifa and her people, the Omehi, having crossed an ocean, attempt to wrest control of a new land from the local inhabitants. This opening reveals a lot of the fantastic elements of the setting that slip into the background for much of the book (these early pages provide our most extensive view of the titular dragons).

From there, the book picks up two centuries later with the story of the protagonist, Tau, one of the Omehi people, who have been fighting the local inhabitants ever since to maintain their hold on a precarious peninsula. The conflict has ranged from raids to full scale combat, and there is always the need for more warriors.  Tau is a young man in a war-torn society, seeking a martial path to greatness. He has ambitions to be Ihashe—an elite military fighter—a rank that he, as a member of one of the lower classes in his rigid, caste-based society, can never surpass. Were he to prove his skill to be accepted to train to become an Ihashe, he could support and provide for the woman he loves, Zuri.

It’s a good plan for a life—and quickly dashed. A grave injustice committed against Tau causes him to redouble his efforts to join the Ihashe—but this time only so he can take revenge against those who wronged him. Tau has a long list of enemies, and he intends to deal with them one-by-one, and violently. To do so, he must first learn the art of combat and shape himself into an instrument of vengeance. Edmund Dantes would completely understand. Even as he trains and continues to try to win Zuri’s heast, the fires of Tau’s violent desires burn bright within him, threatening to overwhelm his dream of a peaceful future.

The meat of this series-launching novel is concerned with Tau’s training to be an Ihashe and his attempts to fulfill his plans of revenge. Over time, he learns to fight individually, then as part of a unit, then as a leader of one. The narrative is replete with scenes of small and large-scale battles and skirmishes, as all the while, Tau continually plots and plans. These sections are rich in verisimilitude and light on the genre trappings; Tau’s becoming often reads more like a realistic tale of bronze age warfare than something unfolding in an epic fantasy setting. It’s all very well-structured and compelling; readers with an interest in the minutiae of military tactics and hand-to-hand fighting will especially love this middle portion of the book. And for the fantasy fans, well: Tau does eventually engage with the fantastical elements of the world while on his quest to master the blade.

As events progress and a new threat to Tau’s world arises, the book shifts gears yet again, becoming a story of political turmoil, intrigue, infighting, invasion, and revolution. What could’ve been a jarring transition works surprisingly well, and feels natural after all the time we’ve spent with Tau as he levels up and develops the strength and skill to deal with concerns far greater than a single opponent or a singular quest for revenge. The fate of nations hangs in the balance, and Evan Winter does a great job aligning and contrasting these larger concerns with Tau’s personal desires. It’s also in the lead-up to the finale that all the fantastical elements glimpsed throughout the novel come to the fore, resulting in a frantic, pulse-pounding siege that pays off on all the promises made in the hundreds of preceding pages.

While the plot is engrossing, Winter excels at theme and worldbuilding. Tau’s society is a highly stratified by social class, and his attempts to make a name for himself despite his lower-class origins give him drive as a character even before he is pushed onto a path of revenge and rampage. Themes of the injustice of war, the importance of love and friendship, and the utility of sacrifice serve to lend the characters rich inner lives. We get to know Tau best of all, given that the point of view that sticks closely to him, but our window into his world is wide enough to give us a good look at all of the people in his life, providing a set of characters for the reader to cheer and fear for, especially when the odds are stacked so high against them.

If you favor comparisons in your book review, The Rage of Dragons is a a Xhosan Gladiator crossed The Count of Monte Cristo, with a dose of the politicking of A Game of Thrones politics in for good measure. All in all, it’s a winning formula for an impressive fantasy debut.

The Rage of Dragons is available now as an ebook, and in hardcover on July 16.

The post Gladiator Meets The Count of Monte Cristo in the African-Inspired Fantasy Epic The Rage of Dragons appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of July 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

For two decades, Jim Killen has served as the science fiction and fantasy book buyer for Barnes & Noble. Every month on and the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Jim shares his curated list of the month’s best science fiction & fantasy books.

Beneath the Twisted Trees, by Bradley P. Beaulieu (July 2, DAW—Hardcover)
The fourth book in Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Song of Shattered Sands series finds the evil kings in the city of Sharakhai clinging to power and using enslaved souls, plagues, and other dark arts to strike out against their enemies. Across the vast sands, Çeda and her Shieldwives and Blade Maiden sisters struggle to free the cursed king Sehid-Alaz while the kingdoms surrounding the city sense its weakness and gather their forces to take advantage. As everything comes to a boil inside and outside Sharakhai, the age of the Kings may finally be about to end—though probably not without complications, as two books remain in this engrossing series, with worldbuilding that has only grown more detailed.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2018, edited by Neil Clarke (July 2, Night Shade Books—Hardcover)
If you’re going to trust one editor to pick the best science fiction and fantasy stories of the year, Neil Clarke is a good bet—in addition to his shepherding of award-winning magazine Clarkesworld, he’d assembled a bookshelf’s worth of fantastic themed and annual anthologies.Here he has collected 29 standouts from 2018 into a must-have book for any serious fan of short SFF. Stories include “Byzantine Empathy” by Ken Liu, “All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” by Alyssa Wong, “Okay, Glory” by Elizabeth Bear, “Different Seas” by Alastair Reynolds, and 25 more stories from the likes of Kelly Robson, Lavie Tidhar, Yoon Ha Lee, and Rich Larson. It’s an essential snapshot of what’s happening in sci-fi and fantasy fiction right now.

Dragonslayer, by Duncan M. Hamilton (July 2, Tor Books—Hardcover)
Here there be dragons: self-publishing success Duncan Hamilton kicks off a new trilogy with Tor Books focused on Guillot “Gill” dal Villerauvais, once a heroic dragonslayer in a French-flavored fantasy world, now a drunken nobleman in a kingdom that hasn’t seen a dragon in decades. When one of the giant beasts suddenly appears, Gill is the only man left with the skills to stand against it—but things aren’t as simple as they seem: a secret order of mages has recruited a new member for nefarious purposes, and even the dragon turns out to have more complex motivations than expected. This is a fun adventure buoyed by strong characters and a flavorful fantasy setting.

Priest of Lies, by Peter McLean (July 2, Ace—Paperback)
Book two of Peter McLean’s The Godfather-esque crime fantasy series War for the Rose Throne finds Tomas Piety, former gangster, royal spy, and priest, flush with new power—and new problems. After returning to find his gang, the Pious Men, displaced by foreign powers in the city of Elinburg, Piety paid a dear price in a power play that left him still standing, but beholden to the Queen’s Men and ensnared in a complex web of political maneuvering, facing down both rival gangs and more ostensibly legitimate powers. The price he’s paid in blood is already steep—and it only gets steeper as this compelling “low fantasy” saga continues.

Crowfall, by Ed McDonald (July 2, Ace—Paperback)
The third book in the Raven’s Mark series finds the Deep Kings close to a final victory, as the Range—the last line of defense between them and the republic—and the Nameless—the gods who have long protected it—are both broken. Without the strength of the Nameless, the Blackwing captains are toppling one after another as the Deep Kings ready one final, decisive blow. Ryhalt Galharrow has been in the wasteland known as the Misery for so long it has become a part of him, and the Blackwing captains line up behind him for one last mission that will decide the fate of the republic for once and for all. McDonald’s talent for creating characters you’ll love and then showing them no mercy has not abated as he brings his trilogy to a rousing close.

The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (July 2, Vintage—Paperback)
The VanderMeers bring to fantasy the same monumental efforts at curation and translation that brought about the massive, absolutely essential 2016 anthology The Big Book of Science Fiction. Fantasy being a much older genre than SF, they’ve been forced to limit the scope to stories written from the early 19th century through World War II, but that still leaves then with enough material to collect a whopping 90 classic tales. Selections range from the familiar (Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” Laughead’s Paul Bunyan stories) to the obscure and newly translated, and everything in-between. Tolkien, Wharton, Cather, Nobokov, Du Bois, and many more names from the world over are featured in a collection that traces the development of an entire genre and places it into glorious context.

Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig (July 2, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Chuck Wendig’s newest is grander and more ambitious than anything else he’s written, a massive epic that evokes classic Stephen King in all the best ways. One evening a young girl named Nessie begins sleepwalking. Her sister, Shana, is increasingly alarmed as Nessie doesn’t respond and can’t be awakened, rising inexorably to walk in a specific direction. Shana soon discovers her sibling is but one of the victims of a pandemic sweeping the country. As more and more people begin sleepwalking, and more and more self-appointed “shepherds” like Shana seek to protect their loved ones as they wander, a mysterious government agency tries to discover the meaning behind this strange, shambling apocalypse. As society begins to fray and violent forces seek to put an end to the plague, the novel delves into questions of free will, zealotry, and faith.

Eye Spy, by Mercedes Lackey (July 9, DAW—Hardcover)
In the sequel to The Hills Have Spies, a spycrafty extension of Mercedes Lackey’s beloved Valdemar series, the daughter of Heralds Mags and Amily of Valdemar wants nothing more than to follow in her parents’ footsteps. But Abidela doesn’t have a Gift—until she senses a disaster moments before it strikes and saves many lives, including her bestie Princess Katiana. Abi is claimed as an apprentice by both the Artificers and the Healers, and her training reveals heretofore unknown aspects of her power that might make her the most powerful and effective spy the realm has ever known. But with no secret hidden enough to elude her—a fact that carries great consequences both for her and for the entire kingdom of Valdemar.

David Mogo, Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (July 9, Abaddon—Paperback)
The gods, called orisha, have fallen to earth, and the city of Lagos is under threat. Demigod David Mogo has long buried his origins, but in order to defend his family and friends from this deific threat, he steps forward to fight and make alliances with both humans and gods, seeking to capture two of the most powerful celestials and deliver them to the wizard Lukmon Ajala. But even a demigod has his work cut out for him when going up against thousands of fallen gods. For David, saving his beloved city and those closest to him will be anything but easy in this unusual urban fantasy debut.

Salvation Day, by Kali Wallace (July 9, Berkley—Hardcover)
The immense exploration ship House of Wisdom was abandoned by Earth years ago in the wake of the devastation wrought by a deadly virus that killed all but one of the crew on board. The ship sits dark and empty—but Zahra and her people intend to claim it and use it to go home, to their salvation. In order to access the ship, they’ll have to kidnap the lone survivor of the incident in order to use their DNA for access—but that’s the least of their problems. Because House of Wisdom contains something much worse than a virus—something that Zahra and the other are about to awaken. This sci-fi horror thriller looks do outdo the scares of Alien, and comes damn close.

The Redemption of Time, by Baoshu, translated by Ken Liu (July 16, Tor Books—Hardcover)
What began as a work of quasi-fanfiction is now canon, as Baoshu imagines a new, officially sanctioned story in the universe of Cixin Liu’s sci-fi epic The Remembrance of Earth’s Past (which began with the Hugo-winning The Three-Body Problem). Baoshu’s novel (translated from Chinese into English by the author Ken Liu, a true champion of Chinese SF in translation) considers into the consequences of humanity’s fight against the Trisolarans. Yun Tianming planned to kill himself after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, but instead found himself frozen and captured by the Trisolarans, who tortured him beyond endurance for decades. He eventually helped the aliens conquer humanity in order to save Earth from destruction, and is given a healthy clone body. He lives as a traitor to his own race until his new body also begins to fail. Then, once again, Yun is regenerated, and once again recruited by an alien force to save the universe—except this time, Yun is determined to reclaim control of his destiny.

The Border Keeper, by Kerstin Hall (July 16, Publishing—Paperback)
Kerstin Hall’s makes her debut with a short novel that grows ornately from a seemingly straightforward premise: a man named Vasethe arrives at the border between the worlds of the living and the dead and implores the border keeper—who he calls Eris, a name the keeper hoped no one remembered—to guide him to the soul of his departed love. As the guardian leads him through the spirit world, called Mkalis, things shift and shapes change, and the pair travels through a series of disorienting and disturbing realms. As the true nature of Vasethe’s quest is slowly revealed, the ever-shifting border keeper realizes the traveler’s true purpose threatens the very realms she is charged with protecting.

This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (July 16, Saga Press—Hardcover)
Two of the finest prose stylists in modern fantasy combine their efforts in this poetic, wrenching story of love, war, and time travel. Red and Blue represent rival factions battling for control of the future—Red part of a technologically-advanced, artificially intelligent faction, Blue part of a hyper-evolved biological hive mind. As they fight their war across time and space, they can’t resist disobeying orders in order to taunt and challenge each other via fiendishly hidden letters, encoded into bones and blood and earth. Slowly, their relationship evolves from adversarial into one of grudging respect, then regard—and then love, a love expressed across centuries, one careful message at a time. If their affair is discovered, they both face execution as traitors—but they’re changing each other, and the future is never written in stone.

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter (July 16, Orbit—Hardcover)
Evan Winter’s debut epic fantasy, which became a self-publishing success story before being picked up by Orbit, explores the power of rage in a land defined by war. The Omehi have been fighting for centuries—their whole society is built around it, led by the rare women who can call forth dragons and the rare men who can transform themselves into super soldiers. Tau is neither, which makes him meat for the endless war’s grinder—unless he simply opts out, seeking a convenient injury so he can retire to a farm and a peaceful life. But betrayal decimates his world and kills everyone he loves—and his rage leads him to seek to become the greatest swordsman of his age—the better to help him as he cuts and slashes his way to vengeance. Drawing from African traditions, this is an epic fantasy that does something different while giving you everything you love about the genre.

Unforeseen, by Molly Gloss (July 16, Gallery/Saga Press—Hardcover)
Molly Gloss is rightly lauded for her novels (both mainstream and fantastical), but she’s also made a name for herself with her deft shorter work: stories that combine a literary sensibility with SFF tropes and a deep understanding of what makes us human. Collected here is a career-spanning set of stories, including three appearing in print for the first time—a real treasure for both longtime fans as well as readers discovering the author for the first time (perhaps via Saga Press’s mission to ensure her legacy among genre readers?). Included here are the stories Interlocking Pieces,” which was included in The Norton Book of Science Fiction; “The Grinnell Method,” winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Award; and “Lambing Season,” which was a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Howling Dark, by Christopher Ruocchio (July 16, DAW—Hardcover)
The sequel to Christopher Ruocchio’s grandly epic space saga Empire of Silence continues the confession of Hadrian Marlowe, once heir to an empire, later an amnesiac living on the streets of an alien city, and, eventually, the Sun Eater, destroyer of worlds. Hadrian has been seeking the lost planet of Vorgossos and the legendary alien Cielcin, but after decades, the search has gone cold, and he begins to lead a group of mercenaries among the farther suns and the barbarians. When Hadrian seeks peace with the aliens humanity has been battling, he must leave the Sollan Empire’s borders and deal with treachery in order to secure it. If he fails, it could trigger the burning of the universe. With the scope of Dune and a confessional, first-person voice that puts us into the mind of a possible madman, this is space opera at its most riveting and grandiose.

Desdemona and the Deep, by C.S.E. Cooney (July 23, Publishing—Paperback)
This novella from World Fantasy Award-winning author C.S.E. Cooney focuses on Desdemona Mannering, the wealthy and well-intentioned daughter of the mining baron of the town of Seafall. Desdemona lives a happy life and is proud of her ongoing work to bring true social reform to the town, in part to make up for the economic disparity afflicting its residents—but then she discovers the horrifying truth behind her father’s wealth, and the horrific tithes he offers to the Goblin King in return. Desdemona sets off with her best friend Chaz to rescue the men her father has endangered—and contemplates striking her own bargain with the Goblin King, one that may doom her for her good intentions. Cooney is an award-winning poet in addition to writing stories, and her prose positively sings.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (July 23, Del Rey—Hardcover)
Infused with and inspired by Mexican folk stories, the latest novel from the author of Certain Dark Things is a Mexican folklore-inspired epic that tells the story of young Casiopea Tun, who slaves away keeping her wealthy grandfather’s house until she stumbles on a mysterious wooden box. When she opens it, she releases the Mayan god of death—a curiously charming entity who asks Casiopea to help him regain his throne from his treacherous brother. Casiopea knows the risk—failure means her death—but the rewards are too tempting to pass up. Accompanying the charismatic god to the Mayan underworld and beyond, Casiopea is determined to have a life that goes far beyond the small Mexican town she was born in, even if it costs her everything.

Jade War, by Fonda Lee (July 23, Orbit—Hardcover)
The second book in Lee’s Nebula-nominated, World Fantasy Award-winning Green Bone Saga (following Jade City) continues the story of the Kaul family’s struggle for dominance over the island of Kekon and its capital city in an alternate world that draws from a myriad of Asian history, legends, and traditions but mixes in plenty of fantastic invention. The clan has its work cut out for them as they struggle against the rival No Peak clan and an array of other external and internal threats from the many forces that covet the invaluable jade the island produces, and which imbues the Green Bone warriors with supernatural abilities. In the face of their enemies, the Kaul family will trade away everything, including their honor, to ensure their survival. Lee’s epic twist on the mob drama is addictive.

Becoming Superman, by J. Michael Straczynski (July 23, Harper Voyager—Hardcover)
J. Michael Straczynski is a legend among geeks—and one of the most successful genre writers of modern times, working in film, comics, and television. Until now, his life has been a mystery, but this incredible memoir details the dark truths behind his embrace of sci-fi, fantasy, and comics. Raised by a Nazi-loving alcoholic father, a clinically depressed mother, and a savage pair of grandparents, he faced a harrowing, abusive childhood that he might never have escaped were it not for the escape he found in comics—especially Superman. Inspired by heroes and those who brought then to life, Straczynski grabbed onto writing like a drowning man and made a future of it. His true life story turns out to be as gripping and inspiring as any of his fiction.

The Last Astronaut, by David Wellington (July 23, Orbit—Paperback)
In 2034, a manned mission to Mars ends in a disaster so complete, NASA itself shuts down, and the lone survivor, Commander Sally Jansen, goes into retired exile. Two decades later, an object detected in the depths of space changes course and heads directly for Earth orbit, ignoring all attempts to make contact. The remnants of NASA are called back into service—including a reluctant, still-haunted Jansen, who agrees to take charge solely because she’s literally the only person qualified to do so. What Jansen and the crew she assembles discover when they head out to rendezvous with the object is terrifying—and changes the mission goal to simple survival. This is sci-fi horror at its most terrifying—if only because the science behind it is grounded and all-too-possible.

Magic: The Gathering—Rise of the Gatewatch, A Visual History, by Wizards of the Coast (July 23, Abrams—Hardcover)
Magic: The Gathering is an interesting fantasy franchise: both a complex game and an epic set of stories set in a multiverse of detailed, richly-imagined worlds. The planeswalkers are powerful beings who have sworn to defend the multiverse, and the history of the first of these is celebrated in this gorgeous book. Collecting art from the cards—including original versions extending beyond the frame—packaging, and from exclusive convention displays, the history of the planeswalkers is explored in intricate detail. From their origins in the mists of time, to their fabled confrontation with the elder dragon and planeswalker Nicol Bolas, it’s a story that rivals any epic fantasy in any format.

Thrawn: Treason (Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition), by Timothy Zahn (July 23, Del Rey—Paperback)
Timothy Zahn continues the story of one of the wider Star Wars saga’s most popular characters—one he created nearly 30 years ago—with the third volume of a trilogy that began with 2017’s Thrawn. For years, Thrawn has served as one of the Emperor’s most deadly weapons, but as Palpatine’s attention shifts to the Death Star project and destruction on a far grander scale, the Grand Admiral finds himself defending his place in the Imperial pecking order—but an envoy from his past suddenly appears with a warning of a threat against Thrawn’s homeworld, information that will force him to choose between his people and the powerful Empire he has sworn his allegiance to. It’s a delight to see Zahn playing around again with the character who made us believe in Star Wars again, all those years ago. The Barnes & Noble edition includes an exclusive pull-out poster.

The Toynbee Convector, by Ray Bradbury (July 30, Simon and Schuster—Hardcover)
Ray Bradbury is one of our most celebrated writers of the fantastic, but most of the attention seems to focus on his early, and groundbreaking, additions to literary history. It’s about time his later stories got some attention, and this reissue should place 22 of them back at the top of TBR lists everywhere. Originally published in 1988 and long unavailable, this collection brings together the best of latter-era Bradbury, including the title story, in which an inventor of a time machine counts down the days to when his past and future will collide. In “On the Orient, North,” a ghost fights off the final end by spinning stories that sustain it, while “West of October” is the story of a woman with the power to send the souls of her family into different bodies, with extremely unlikely consequences. Masterful stuff from a master who remained one up until the end.

Dark Age, by Pierce Brown (July 30, Del Rey—Hardcover)
The fifth entry in Pierce Brown’s bestselling epic space opera Red Rising series is as complex and violent as the previous four. Darrow—once a lowly Red in a galaxy stratified by color, and then the breaker of chains and hero of the revolution that destroyed an empire—is again an enemy of the republic, but continues his lonely war with the forces he has left. The heir to the lost throne returns to the core of the system to try and rally the untrustworthy Golds to the cause of restoration, and the leader of the Republic, Mustang, struggles against an array of enemies both hidden and overt. Brown’s universe has all the gravitas and blood-soaked politics of Ancient Rome—and the far-future solar system could be heading toward a similar fall.

The Hound of Justice, by Claire O’Dell (July 30, Harper Voyager—Paperback)
Claire O’Dell ‛s queer reinvention of the Holmes/Watson dynamic continues as surgeon Watson, who lost an arm treating wounded soldiers in a conflict that occurred before the start of A Study in Honor, struggles to work with a prosthetic arm in a future United States split by a second Civil War. When a terrorist attack sees Watson treating the wounded while FBI agent Sara Holmes investigates how the attack was pulled off, the pair once again find themselves working together—and then going undercover, directly into the racist heart of the secessionist-held territories. Grim yet hopeful, this is much more than a homage—though its gripping mystery is certainly worthy of Doyle, it’s a story that gets to the heart of what America is, and what it could be.

The Ascent to Godhood, by JY Yang (July 30, Publishing—Paperback)
JY Yang reveals new facets of the world of the Tensorate with the fourth novella in their Hugo and Nebula award-nominated series. The story, which both stands alone and sheds new light on the backstory of the earlier books, unfolds as a confessional: Lady Han’s faction, the magic-fearing Machinists, has successfully staged a coup, assassinating the kingdom’s cruel Protector, and she’s drunk and baring her soul to an unspecified listener. She tells of a difficult childhood—at age 12, she was sold by her poor, commoner family to a man who gave her a new name and sent her to the capital for training as a courtesan. Her abilities and ambition draw the attention of Hekate, an unlikely successor to the throne, who pulls her into a political scheme against a rival, and gives her yet another name: Lady Han. Lady Han and Hekate develop a difficult bond, somewhere between duty, obligation, and love—made more fraught when the latter ascends to the throne.

What new SFF books are you going to pick up this month?

The post The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of July 2019 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

A Young Swordsman Faces an Uncertain Future in African-Inspired Fantasy Epic The Rage of Dragons


According to author Evan Winter’s official bio, the British-born son of South African parents was inspired to start writing when his own son was born, and “he realized that there weren’t many epic fantasy novels featuring characters who looked like him.” His African-inspired debut The Rage of Dragons helps fill that…

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Designing the Cover for The Rage of Dragons, the Next Great Epic Fantasy of 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Evan Winter’s debut novel, The Rage of Dragons, is another success story of the likes of Josiah Bancroft and Jonathan French. A year and change after his self-published his debut novel, it is coming out in print from a major publisher.  Orbit will release the hardcover edition in July, while the reedited ebook is available now. This story of a reluctant young fighter growing up in a cultural built on endless war, it has been called Game of Thrones meets Gladiator, or, as acquiring editor Brit Hvide put it on Twitter, “it’s got dragons and warrior training and a matriarchal society and all the characters are black because why not?”

Needly to say, we’re pretty excited to read it—and our excited wasn’t exactly tempered by Orbit’s recent reveal of the cover (see the full version below!). Evan recently spoke with artist Karla Ortiz, the cover illustrator, about the process of creating the cover, representation in pop culture, and artistic inspiration, and we’re happy to share that conversation with you today. 

Evan Winters: I think book covers are immensely important. They’re a book’s calling card. They’re its most consistent and prevalent marketing tool and most importantly, they’re a promise to readers. I want to thank you for creating a wonderful piece and for giving my story its promise. I’m curious, what was the creative brief and how did we come to the cover that we have today?

Karla Ortiz: The creative brief is interesting because whenever I get one of these briefs it’s almost like I’m a detective and I’m getting the file cases. We got a short brief little story of who you are as the author and what the story feels like. Not any specific story points, although there were some specifics like here’s some of our characters, here’s some of the feelings, some of the things they visually want to bring into the whole story.

Orbit’s art director, Lauren [Panepinto], is the best. We’ve been wanting to work together for a really long time. She actually hit me up. She said specifically, “Karla. I have a book and I really want you to work on it. I’d think you’d be perfect for it and here’s why.” She gave me a little bit of that brief and what you as the author were trying to bring to the story. I was just like, “Yeah, I would love to be a part of it.” She challenged me actually, because most of my illustration work is very heavily character-centric. If left to my own devices, I would have painted all the characters and I would have spoiled the story for readers. We went through a series of sketches and she had pointed at a painting that I did a long time ago in which I had a relief of figures in the wall. That’s always a subject that I’m in love with. I love relief sculptures and just how dynamic and magnificent they can be.

Are there parts of the final cover that point to specific scenes or characters in the book?

Evan: I feel as if the way the cover is, it’s actually better than if it pointed to a specific scene in the book because what you did speaks to the tone of the book. It speaks to the direction that the story goes and the direction it will be going. I think that that’s probably more important than a specific scene. Even though, as a reader, it’s always fun when you get to a point in the book and you go, “Oh that’s the cover.” It totally is fun. But I think that a cover often ends up needing to do a bit more than that. Because too often, individual scenes can’t really speak to the story or the greater idea that you’re trying to tell. I really loved the cover because I think what it does is it captures the tone of the story and the kind of idea that I’m going for, which is that there’s something larger than individual moments that’s happening. Something that has weight and almost a sense of history to it. Because that is part of the goal, I want the story to have the feel of almost a history being told.

Karla: I worked on Black Panther. For the cover of The Rage of Dragons, I used a lot of the process that I used for creating stuff for Black Panther, where you look at a lot of things from an area, you research the history of it and why they used certain things. I had one version where it was a shield and bunch of swords and weaponry. There was another version where it was just the background relief and the statues. Then there was another version that had little statues but there were fire embers all over. When Lauren came back to me, she’s like, “Okay, we love all of them so let’s put them all together.”

Evan: One of the things I really like about the way it’s all come together and how you used the relief but still have the figures within the relief is… Very often people talk about Africa as if it doesn’t have its own history. What you’ve done is you’ve almost created a feeling of that. We hear all the time about Roman and Greek history, and we often see things in reliefs on the buildings that they made and what you’ve done here is you’ve said, “Look, let’s take that idea of history and look, Africa has it, too.”

Karla: Where I’m from, Puerto Rico, the stories most people grow up with are the Spaniard stories, but the ones that are really, really interesting are those of our Indian heritage, the Taino. The stories of the gods that they have. Because we get hurricanes all the time, they named a specific god that comes over and then you go and run and hide in the mountains. There are great stories and great legends and things that you’re just like, this is just as cool as any kind of Roman mythology or Viking mythology. Every place has that. It’s one of the things I’m so excited to start seeing, especially in fantasy. I’ve been seeing a trend of authors being like, “Hey, you know what? We’ve told these stories. The Vikings and Romans, typical fantasy so long, what about the gods we don’t talk about? What about the mythology we don’t talk about?” That’s what I’ve been so fascinated with lately.

Evan: I completely, completely, completely agree with you. Civilizations everywhere have these stories and we have to start telling them. It’s important that we hear them, I think, and see the places where we have the commonalities and we need to value the differences.

Karla: Seeing Black Panther nominated for all those [awards] is so cool. There’s definitely changes happening in Hollywood. You’re in the forefront of that, too, with your book, as well. What kind of stories are being told? It’s now expanded to reflect our reality more, of how varied and how diverse we are. I think that’s so exciting.

Evan:It’s an extremely exciting time to be trying to create, I think. Especially because not very long ago, there weren’t very many opportunities for people like you and me, I think, to be able to create as easily, and with as much support from the places that can help you make a living doing that creation. Black Panther obviously is a big Marvel Studio movie, but it’s like a lot of this is coming out of people making their own stuff in their own way, because they’re going, “You know what, I can’t wait for somebody to let me make something. I have to make it now.”

Karla: That also creates a ripple that’s unforeseen. Like, how many young people see that and say, “Oh, I can be a hero. I’m not the lackey.” Like, for example for me, “Oh, I’m not a housekeeper,” ’cause that’s what everything in Hollywood would always tell me. You’re Hispanic, you’re just going to clean a house. Like, “Oh, I can actually be a superhero. I can have defining roles that are exciting. I can be heroic, I can be strong, I can have flaws, I can be everything.” Especially within the fantasy realm you can allow yourself to dream to that extent. That’s life-changing for people.

Evan: It’s always wonderful to hear it. You’re completely right, and it makes a difference. I took my son to go see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It was so amazing to watch. I went with my son and my wife. My wife is not particularly into comic book stuff. She was like, “Oh, we’re going for the little guy, so I’ll go.” She loved it. That’s not what she’s into, and she’s like, “That’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.”

Karla: Me and my boyfriend saw it three times. That’s how good it was. My favorite was going to a matinee or seeing little kids coming out and just being like, “I could have the mask, too.”

Evan: That’s the most important thing for me. I got to sit next to my son in that movie theater and he got to watch Miles Morales be Spider-Man. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about being able to see yourself in art, being represented, because helps us make sense of the real world, I think.

A lot of the time in the writing community you hear the idea of, “Oh, you have to really be in the mood or feeling it.” And then the other side says, “Well, it’s just butt in chair.” Personally, I outline, and try to put ‘butt in chair’ because then I know what I need to write and can’t get blocked. After that, if you put your butt in the chair and you know what you’re supposed to write, you just write. The other thing about simply doing the work without too much focus on ‘waiting for the muse’ is that, even on the days you’re not feeling it, if you just do the work, you’ll never let stuff happen on the page or the screen that’s below your level of craft. You just won’t. Just keep going and then, at the end, you can revise, revise, revise until it gets to at least the height of your craft. Maybe the height of your craft doesn’t end up being where you want it to be, but that’s what practice is for, right?

Karla: I teach a lot and I do a lot of workshops and that’s one of the things I often tell students. There’s also a lot of artists in my industry that are like, “Oh, I don’t paint unless I feel inspired.” But inspiration is so fleeting. And inspiration is just not reliable. I work in film right now. With film you can’t wait for it to inspire you. You’ve got to go. What I’ve found is that sometimes I don’t feel it at all but I tell myself I’m going to do just a couple little marks. That helps me inch myself into that mood and suddenly, before you know it, you are inspired.

Rather than waiting for that very specific moment when the new moon comes in and the stars align and you’re just like, “Oh, now I feel it.” And you better hope that you don’t get a phone call, ’cause then you’re screwed.

Evan: And then you’re done. And those moments happen where all the stars align and it’s beautiful.

Karla: Yeah, it’s gorgeous.

Evan: The funny thing is when I read my work back afterwards, I can’t tell when the stars align and I can’t tell when I was having an awful shitty day, the words are just there. You don’t even know the days you didn’t feel it because you just read the words and you’re like, “Okay, that works. That’s great.”

Karla: That’s perfect. After a while you look back at a painting and … I do remember some of my paintings where I remember not really enjoying it, but now that I look at with new eyes, it doesn’t matter. It’s fine. It’s not as big of a deal as I remember it to be.

Evan: It was an absolute pleasure to get the chance to speak to you. Thank you so much for an amazingly beautiful, beautiful cover and a cover that I’m very, very proud of. I’m extremely excited for the rest of the world to see it.

Karla: Me too. I’m excited for the book to hit. I’m excited for people to be just like, “Damn.” Thank you. It was just an honor. It was an honor to meet you, and thank you so much for your time and your vision.

More about The Rage of Dragons:

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war.

Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance.

Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.

The Rage of Dragons launches a stunning and powerful debut epic fantasy series that readers are already calling “the best fantasy book in years.

The Rage of Dragons is available now as an ebook. The hardcover edition will be published on July 16, 2019. Preorder now.

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