Book: “The Dragon Republic” by R. F. Kuang
Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, August 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!
Book Description: Three times throughout its history, Nikan has fought for its survival in the bloody Poppy Wars. Though the third battle has just ended, shaman and warrior Rin cannot forget the atrocity she committed to save her people. Now she is on the run from her guilt, the opium addiction that holds her like a vice, and the murderous commands of the fiery Phoenix—the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.
Though she does not want to live, she refuses to die until she avenges the traitorous Empress who betrayed Rin’s homeland to its enemies. Her only hope is to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who plots to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new republic.
But neither the Empress nor the Dragon Warlord are what they seem. The more Rin witnesses, the more she fears her love for Nikan will force her to use the Phoenix’s deadly power once more.
Because there is nothing Rin won’t sacrifice to save her country . . . and exact her vengeance.
Previously Reviewed: “The Poppy War”
Review: I read “The Poppy War” over the summer. And while I really enjoyed it (it even made it onto my Top 10 list for the year!), it was also a super hard read. Kuang doesn’t back away from the awful realities of war, and how often the innocents are the ones to suffer the worst. That being the case, while I knew I wanted to continue with the series, I had to give myself a break before getting to the next one. So, about six months later, now is the time! Plus, the third book just came out a month or so ago, so I want to get to that one in a somewhat timely way.
The Poppy War has ended due to the extreme measures taken by Rin at the end of the last book. But the Empress remains and Rin’s vengeance has not been completed. However, even a powerful fire shaman such as herself cannot take on the Empress alone. Not to mention the opium she has been using to control the Phoenix’ voice in her head has consumed more and more of her life. When she’s approached by the Dragon warlord to join a new cause, a new war, Rin sees her only path forward. And is a soldier without a war, anyways? Rin’s not sure she wants to find out.
I enjoyed this second book even more than the first. In “The Poppy War,” there was a bit of a jarring tonal shift from the first half which read like a boarding school/coming-of-age story and the second half that was pure war and pure devastation around every corner. It got darker and darker and ended pretty much in the darkest place yet. This second book not only had to move Rin’s story forward from a seemingly impossible personal low, but it also must set up Rin’s path forward in her path for vengeance against an almost all-powerful foe. And while it fully explores the challenges of both of these things in very satisfying ways, that’s all covered in about the first third of the book! And instead, the author takes us into an even more complicated brewing conflict where Rin’s abilities could be the crux of everything.
The story once again dives into the complicated nature of warfare, loyalty to one’s country, and making the tough decisions when weighing the balance of the greater good. For one thing, it explores whether “the greater good” is even a thing in these types of decisions. Alongside these themes, however, this book also explores concepts of religion and cultural power with the introduction of the Hesperians, a sophisticated society that has largely stayed out of previous wars but are beginning to makes moves in this book. Rin is a great character to explore these themes alongside. While she has shamanic powers, she’s by no means devote. She can see both the appeal and the danger in these others with their monotheistic faith.
There were also a bunch of twists and turns in this story. At this point, I’ve come to assume that almost every person in power is terrible, only telling part of the truth, and looking to exploit Rin somehow. But I never can quite pin down the intricate motives and histories that behind the decisions everyone is making. What’s more, we had some pretty big reveals about side characters in this book that I definitely didn’t see coming at all! Rin’s own story took a few pretty massive shifts that I didn’t expect, and I loved it all.
I also appreciated that, while this book is still dark, it wasn’t quite as tough to get through as the first one. This could also be simply because I was more prepared for what I was getting into, and Rin herself was more hardened to what she was seeing and doing. Fans of the first book are sure to love this second one. And I can guarantee that the wait time between this second book and the third will be much shorter than my wait between the first and second!
Rating 9: Excellent and somehow even stronger than the first!
Strangely, “The Dragon Republic” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Asian Speculative Fiction by Asian Authors — #ownvoices.
Find “The Dragon Republic” at your library using WorldCat!