Review: The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R. F. Kuang

Rating: 8.5/10

Synopsis

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.

Review

More intimate than its predecessor, The Dragon Republic is a fantasy that makes you care, then kills that emotion, leaving you numb but wanting much more. This is a long river road of blood and warfare, rebuffed by the emotional strain of maintaining friendship through the worst that war can offer you. A head in a box? No … that is too unrefined. What about some dumplings?

The Dragon Republic set a different pace to the first, being less flashy and shocking but more gruelling and certainly more in the business of upsetting the reader. What I love about Kuang’s writing is that she knows how and when to hurt you, and how to keep that heart thumping, praying, begging nothing more will happen to the characters we love.

In summary, (light spoilers ahead as usual) after the events of the first book, Rin and Cike find themselves captured in the possession of the Dragon Warlord, who is also Nehza’s father if you remember; Cike are pulled into the coup that the newly named ‘Dragon Republic’ are planning at the Warlord’s command. They want to take the rule from the Vipress, Su Daji, and turn over the Nikara Empire to the Republic. With the help of the barbaric Hesperians; the puppetmasters. After a failed assassination, Daji seals Rin’s powers and nulls the Republic’s trump card in the same breath. When their campaign inland along the rivers, with the Republic’s armada, goes awry at the hands of the Wind God, Arlong can only sit and wait while the Empress’ retaliation bears down on them – this is a hell of a ride.

The emotional arc that Rin goes through in this book is gripping, Kuang really knows how to weave hard emotion into very real characters. The prose maintains its sophistication and the story its twists and turns that kept me enthralled. One thing this missed for me was the huge magical feats of the first, or at least fresh feats; although saying that, the magic system is balanced and doesn’t run away with itself. While the first book demonstrated the power of gods, the second book demonstrates the limitations of those who wield the power, which is a very nice touch. You can’t solve everything with mega magic (unfortunately.)

I love a book that fires up my passion for the genre in a new way and this series certainly ignites it and then some. I also love a book that hits me where it hurts; if it can do that while surprising me, I know I’m in for a good read. This book does this in droves. The Poppy War trilogy is my new obsession. One thing that blows its credibility through the roof is how close it wears its Second Sino-Japanese War influence – which only adds to the suffering of the characters, the realness of their experience and how thought-provoking the original idea is.

This novel was a true joy to read, and I thank Harper Voyager that I am already reading the third.

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