Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3) by R. F. Kuang

Rating: 7/10

Synopsis

After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead. 

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it? 

Review

Murder, mayhem, tragedy and loss; the final instalment of the Poppy War Trilogy is packed with enough story-line and events for a trilogy, let alone a finale as devastating as this. It is a treat of epic proportions with a lot to live up to with the first two in the trilogy – which it certainly fought hard to do, with enough heartache and despair to last. With a final scene that replays constantly in my mind (the only thing I can now think about when I consider this trilogy) and also a middle that left me feeling somewhat … peeved? I think would be the right word. I have no idea how to effectively synthesise my mix of thoughts and feelings into a review that will do it justice. Preface: this is my mixed opinion and I’m going to try and explain without too many spoilers. There will be hints at the plot, so if you want to go into the third book completely fresh, don’t read on.

Rin, and her final descent into villainy, starts off hidden in bushes, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting, to continue a story of slaughter. She’s now part of the leadership in the Southern Coalition, and she’s out for revenge … out for blood still, in the shape and form of Nezha and the Hesparians.

There’s cruelty in good measures here, a Rin type of cruelty that we’ve grown accustomed to throughout the rest of the series, carefully, deftly written by Kuang’s masterful hand. A kind of well-spoken brutality that is so very raw. Rin uses her power to manipulate and outright kill her way into full command of the rebel forces, making a beeline for her beloved Tikany. One of the things I have enjoyed about the series proper is the morally questionable lead and it is still the same in this final book, which takes full-frontal control in the first part. It is there she meets the Vipress, now a withered husk of her former glory, and from here that we kick into – what I thought – was the main, final story thread. A quest to revive the Trifecta, and with it, the powerful and undeniable Dragon Emperor. At this, I was fully hooked. The fight scenes were fully imagined spectacles as always, the action: scripted, clear madness. The characters: desperate, gritty, relationships fraying.

From the middle of the book, where the story-line I loved is fully realised, then quickly binned off, destroyed, I was left reeling and not knowing what to make of the final part. Something that happens here just didn’t and hasn’t sat right with me … Kuang’s ability to keep us guessing, never knowing what is around the corner hit me hard in this book and, for once, it was not a surprise that I liked. To say I was devastated for this book at this point would be right.

The last half of the book left me moody, and I don’t think I got over the disappointment that I spoke about above. A red herring in its truest form. As a huge fan of the series, or any series, you always have some way you think it will go or end up and this was the first time that I was very wrong, to the credit of Kuang; in this respect, it is a very well-executed series.

And, that ending. Despite what happened between, it hit me hard. It hurt. It was not what I expected, but was wholly satisfying in the most despairing way. All in all, it was a great series, but has a lot of twists and turns that could turn out unsavoury depending on the preferences of the reader. It’s definitely a series that will stay in my mind for a long while.

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