Publisher/date: Orbit (July 16, 2019)
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Burning
Rating: MR (violence - this one is graphic)
"Where we fight, the world burns."
Tau is a coward.
His duty as a lesser is to serve in the military as a human shield - cannon fodder to give the nobles time. But he's got a plan. He will cripple himself in training and will be sent home having "served his duty" so that he can marry the girl he loves.
But when everything is taken from him, his rage will turn him into something no lesser has ever become. Something to match the nobles. Will he become something more than them, or will he become a weapon to be wielded by them?
It's very very hard for me to give you anything else without spoiling anything. I will liken this book to The Poppy War. A young person goes off to a military school to become something more than they are and end up surprising everyone with how far an underdog can rise.
This book scared me. The rage that Tau becomes scared me because it feels so real. Tau is the product of the society that created him. He becomes a monster - but it is really the only true path he has other than to lay down and die. They made him what he is, and so while we follow his journey and watch him do monstrous things, we're always on his side. This is part of what makes a good book great in my opinion - the ability to create a hero who is human. He's not all good, he's not all bad. He is what he is.
"Tau embraced the madness. He needed it to fight the monsters."
To understand this series better, I did some research. The writer, Evan Winter, was raised in Africa near the historical territory of his Xhosa ancestors. The culture in this book, and indeed many of the underlying themes are based upon that culture. Even some of the terms you will read in the book are from that language. This is an own voices book about "power, society, and the systems we use to keep those things in place and functioning."
Btw, why on earth did they not use THIS cover, which I've found in several places and like way better than the one they landed on?! I suppose it feels more YA but damn, that's a sexy cover. LOOK AT THE DRAGON *fangirl screetch*
I could go on and on about the amazingness of this book. I love the true matriarchal society - and a male writer who actually writes it correctly!!! Not just a mother goddess and women being the leaders - and the women being the pursuers in relationships - all the way down to the individual words that come from misogyny. Queendom instead of Kingdom. THANK YOU SIR.
There are quite a lot of terms referring to social classes and military positions, and sometimes I got them mixed up while listening to the book. While I plan to do a reread of the series in hardcover format so that I can annotate - I've detailed those below for your reference. I am disappointed to not have found a fandom site dedicated to this series. I want to start a book club SOLELY to have more people to discuss this series with! PLEASE go read this series so that I will have someone to suffer the pain of the eternal waiting that comes with reading an incomplete series.
5.5 Stars - this is one of those books that when you finish, you look around and wonder where the rest of the fandom is?! WHERE IS IT???
And now for the fan section!
Read this book and need more info? Maybe use this as an accompaniment to your reading! This may contain a few spoilers!!! Note that I plan to do a reread to really collect all the data, as my first read was purely for enjoyment, so the data below is incomplete. Therefore please comment or message me if you have anything to add or correct!
Isihogo - the underworld, created by the Goddess to trap the demons - those who betrayed her. If you die in Isihogo you do not die in the real world unless you are drawing magic from Isihogo. The demons are drawn to the light of your soul, and they kill you.
Gifted - 1 out of 1,000 to 3,000 (the number is given as one, then two, then three thousand over the course of the two books - I don't think because the author made a mistake, but because they are getting rarer and the nobles don't want that information known) women are born gifted. They are born with the power and can only refine what they have, not grow their power. Their powers are:
Enraging - gifted are able to link with noble soldiers to make them bigger and stronger
Entreating - grab on to a person or animal's soul and make them do your bidding
Enervation - push people's souls into Isihogo during battle to render them useless
Edification - walking the underworld to deliver messages to other gifted
Omehi - the Omehi people are the nobles and lessers that make up the Queendom. They are a society built around war, and have been dislocated from their homeland for 200 years, chased out of the continent to the peninsula under Queen Taifa Omehia's reign by the Cull. (Her champion was Tsiory.) The social castes are as follows:
Greater or Royal Noble
The Queendom is run by a Queen, who was chosen by the goddess, and governing council called the Guardian Council, made up of high ranking nobles. Queen Teifa was a "dragon queen," she was gifted. Her blood carries the most powerful of the gifted, entreating.
Hedeni - the people the Omehi have been at war with for centuries. They greatly outnumber the Omehi but do not have the same magics.
The Cull - an ancient enemy of the Omehi people, now believed to be myth and legend.
Dragon - a full regiment consisting of appx. 1,500 soldiers
Ranks (Note: in parentheses and italics next to a word I've found translations in Xhosan.)
Inkokeli (leader)- commanders of regiments, can be lessers or nobles depending on the
caste that makes up that regiment.
Ingonyama (lions) - highest ranking regiment made up of nobles
Indlovu (elephant) - noble military men - they wear black
Ihashi (horse) - lesser military men - they wear gray
Ihagu (pig) - low ranking guards who failed military testing
Unkondisi (end of Borders chapter)
The Hedeni from the continent of Xiddan outnumber the Omehi 6 to 1. They do have powers, but none as useful for military strategy as the gifted of the Omehi. The Omehi have withstood the Xiddan for 200 years because their entreaters call dragons from Isihogu and use them to rain fire on the Xiddan. But dragons are intelligent sentient creatures, and can hold the gifted's mind in Isihogu until their power to hide themselves (referred to as a "shroud") is depleted. A "hex" (5-6 entreaters) call a dragon. They essentially fight each other and the weakest is left for the dragon to hold in Isihogo until her shroud is depleted and the demons find her and kill her.
Tau Solarin - a high common whose father served in the military
Zuri - Tau's childhood love who is gifted
Jabari Onai - a lesser noble and Tau's friend, he trained with Tau
Lekan - Jabari's brother
Abasi - greater noble who ordered Tau's father killed
Tsiora Omehia - The Queen
The Kaiad - her Vizier
Essie - The queen's twin sister
The Champion - the Queen's main guard and concubine for heirs
Kellen Okar - the Champion's nephew. His father was a traitor and he is trying to earn his family's good name back. Abasi Odilly is his mentor.
Uduak - Tau's right hand and best friend - a lesser as large as a noble.
Hadith - Tau's friend and strategist of his regiment
Jayyed Ayim- Tau's trainer and Inkokeli in his regiment
Dejen - councilor's bodyguard/guy who physically killed Tau's dad