I think I've been living under a rock. A rock that prevented me from listening and/or reading this before this month. This masterful work was originally published in 2017. Did you catch that? TWO ZERO ONE SEVEN. Okay, I'm done beating myself up.
This story primarily follows Tau, an Omehi higher common, who exists in a world of castes, war, and an alternate reality known as Isihogo, where demons prowl and try to steal your soul. From the outset, it is clear the dragons are used by certain mages, or Gifted, as a terrible last resort to win battles. They are controlled by terrible means (no spoilers), to manipulate these beasts into serving them. Tau is thrust onto a path of revenge at all costs.
This African-inspired fantasy is fast-paced, full of memorable characters, unique magic, and a revenge plot that feels oh-so-familiar in fantasy, and remains one of my favorite tropes to date. Winter has created a masterful world, and takes favorite elements of the fantasy genre - swords, magic, dragons - and made them his own.
Tau is one of those characters that you love one minute and want to wring his neck the next. It's what makes a character believable - that mixture of realistic, fallible humanity yet also the intrinsic ability to rise above bad circumstances and make something better. Tau is set on a course that brings him to the brink of insanity yet he perseveres through horrible situations, and becomes someone to admire. His character arc is nearly flawlessly executed.
The plot itself isn't too unique, but the building blocks around it buffer it up. The majority of the book is set around a training school for warriors, yet Winters uses this trope in different ways so that it doesn't feel too familiar. The cast of supporting characters bring lighthearted relief, soul crushing sorrow, and the type of community we all wish we had - friendship is the backbone of this novel. Tau just doesn't realize it.
I highly recommend this audio book. The narrator, Prentice Onayemi, has the perfect voice for this story. His deep, smooth baritone and knack for making characters stand-out so you always know who is talking creates an atmosphere of complete immersion. I can't wait for the next installment! The fall can't come soon enough.