The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.
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?
The Burning God is the very highly-anticipated finale to the The Poppy War series. Many R.F. Kuang fans have been waiting with high expectations to find out what is the fate of Rin and friends (and enemies, and people who fall into both categories). I can tell you this: whether you like this book or not, prepare yourself for a conclusion that is quite a ride. You can find my reviews of the previous books in the series here: The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic.
I am actually going to begin this review with the aspects of this book that I did not like. There are many reasons why I do not do that most of the time, but for the narrative purposes of this review it just fits better. BE WARE OF SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS.
Let’s start with the fact that the story was extremely chaotic. I expected the storyline to basically be Rin’s March to the Throne; obviously, with some surprises and exciting action along the way, and somehow Rin redeems herself, as well. That is not at all what it is, and that would be fine if the narrative did not seem so disparate. It almost felt like 3 different novellas stacked into one book to me, and I had trouble with that as a reader because I look forward to a build up and a climax and some peaks and valleys along the way. I did not feel like I got that with this book. It is important to mention that nothing about this series has been typical, so I should not expect anything close to a typical finale, but I did expect something that felt like a coherent story. I did not feel like I got that.
A really good example of this is the inclusion of the Trifecta in this book. I am going to stay super-vague on this because I do not want to spoil it for anyone, but it I enjoyed the fact that the story took the direction it did by involving them. I was actually looking forward to this aspect of the story since the beginning. There was so much foreshadowing that I knew they would come up at some point. But, my anticipation did not pay off in the end the way I had hoped.
I mentioned in my review of the 2nd book, The Dragon Republic, that I was really impressed with the discussions of military strategy and tactics. That book really wowed me. I thought the exact opposite about the planning in The Burning God. Oftentimes, Rin and her team would be strategizing and I could not help but think there were many holes in their thinking. It felt like, in an effort to tie certain aspects of the story together or to make certain planned meetings happen, the events were forced. The explanations as to why they made the decisions they did just did not make sense to me much of the time.
And then there is Rin. Up until this book I was hanging in there with her. Yes, she previously committed genocide in the first book and has basically thrown bodies of innocents in the way to be able to accomplish her goals. I do not consider her a good person; but, what I was expecting was some kind of redemption here. She was never going to compensate for her previous wrongdoings all the way, but I wanted to see her try. We did not get that in this book, and that is a really missed opportunity. It could have been an emotional journey, and I was ready for some tears; instead, it was more of the same and fell flat.
Why rate it even as high as I have if there are so many aspects of the book I did not like? It is because, despite all of the flaws of this book and the series in general, I felt compelled to finish. I needed to see how it ended. Even if at the end I was hate-reading a little, especially when it comes to Rin, I could not put it down. Not once did I consider DNF’ing the book because I would not have been able to stop thinking wondering how it ended.
That is the main reason, but there are other qualities about this book that were compelling. For the most part, the world building was great. Kuang put so much into the history and geography, as well as the interactions between the different peoples. The constant themes through out the book of discrimination (racial, sexual, cultural) was well-done and how that affected the relationships different groups have with each other was a phenomenal aspect of this series as a whole. This also leads to a lot of alliance-building and some friends-to-enemies (and sometimes friends-to-enemies-to-friends-to-enemies-friends and so on). I actually really enjoyed that part, because that is realistic to me. People waffle, and there is a lot of waffling with the characters in this series.
So, do I recommend The Burning God? If you have read the first 2 in the series, there is no reason not to finish it off. I would say to go ahead and read it because I think it is important to see how it ends. If you have not already started the series, I will leave the decision about whether to read it up to you. In the end, it did not meet my expectations; however, I was compelled to read all the way to the end.