In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.
With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.
But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.
This book really did a number on me and I mean that in the best possible way. I absolutely love The Poppy War, it was one of my favorite books from last year. When I love a book so much, I often go into a sequel with a little bit of worry–will it live up to the greatness of the first one? The answer to that is, thankfully, yes. And not only that, I think this surpasses the first book in a lot of ways.
Like the first book, this one has three parts to it, each roughly a third of the book. In the first section, Rin is busy dealing with the aftermath of the events that occurred at the ending of The Poppy War. Thanks to Rin, victory is theirs. But it’s a hollow one, and the war most assuredly isn’t over. The Cike are in shambles and Rin is struggling with her guilt, her grief, and a sense of inadequacy to be any good to them, let alone their leader. Not to mention she has a terrible drug addiction which is slowly killing her. Rin’s a girl who really needs to get herself together. But, you also can’t help feeling for her, the weight of all of these things bearing down on her, and you kind of understand why it’s easier to just pass the time in a drug filled haze rather then try to confront the pain of reality.
Eventually Rin manages to get herself together enough to get involved in another war. Content to be used, she lets others use her. But that’s the thing–she isn’t content. Rin is smart, so very smart. She’s just as capable at military strategy as any of the generals she works under. Her temper and her impulsiveness get her into trouble, as does her single-mindedness and her unwillingness to compromise. Even when she does finally compromise, it’s grudgingly. She’s such a beautifully complex and flawed character, and I love her to pieces even when I want to scream at her. I also love all of the relationships she has with other characters in the book, which really just serve to enforce how alone she is, and how alone she’s always been. She’s part of the Cike, she’s their defacto leader, but she still feels like an outsider there as well. It’s hard for her to trust people, as to be expected. She has a really interesting character arc here, where her progress comes back to bite her later. Welp!
The pacing of this one was pretty good. I did think the beginning and middle section were more steady, but compared to the last third of the book they felt slow because things really ramp up towards the end. One thing after another starts happening and sometimes I found myself thinking ‘wait, did that just happen?’ and had to go back and reread because there’s so much going on. There’s some pretty great twists and turns and unexpected surprises, which I loved as a reader, but also left me feeling shocked and completely discombobulated. Thanks, book, for all the feelings.
I love how Kuang, once again, didn’t pull any punches or try to sugarcoat things. This book is just straight up about how war is hell, humans are trash, everyone is capable of the worst kind of evil, and also no one is ever on the right side because there is no right side (see humans are trash statement). We get to see some of the worst of humanity again in this book and sometimes it’s the characters we’re rooting for. Let’s unpack that ‘no one is on the right side because there is no right side’. The ‘sides’ are just people who want something fighting other people who want the same thing–in this case, mostly that thing is to be in charge and shape the world in their own vision because they think they know what’s best for everyone else. Power is part of that because it goes along with the territory. But what you really have here is an ideological battle played out in epic scale, and it’s not until too late that Rin begins to realize this. Rin is too focused on her own vengeance and being a cog in a machine, a good little soldier, because she thinks that’s all she’s good for. It’s a bit heartbreaking when you see her finally figuring things out, looking at the bigger picture and putting all the pieces together.
Even though this book is dark, and deals with many dark things, it’s not one of those books that is grim just for the sake of being grim. The darkness in this book is very deliberate and serves a purpose, reminding us that we’re not so far removed from this side of humanity. This, too, is us, if we let it be. But, even when everything is terrible there’s still people willing to fight for what they believe in, whatever that may be, filled with hope for a better future. So it’s not really nihilistic in any way. And yet, every side has the same sense of hope of one day bringing their vision of order to the world, and they’re willing to do terrible things to get there. Hope is a great and terrible thing.
Overall, I loved The Dragon Republic, it was a fantastic follow up and it’s left me a bit breathless waiting for the final book. 5/5 stars.