The Poppy War was good, this one is better
The Poppy War was brutal, this one is ruthless
The Poppy War enticed, this one demanded
The Poppy War sparked the war, this one incinerated the battlefield
There was nothing I did not love about The Dragon Republic.
Character growth: ★★★★★
War/Gore Factor: ★★★★★ (yeah it's still rough.)
The Dragon Republic is the explosive follow-up to R.F. Kuang's insanely talented debut novel, The Poppy War, and it does not disappoint—in fact, it packs double the punch. Haven't read the first book? Stop! Go find it! Read it! Love it! Then come back here! See if you agree with what I thought! Warning: it's going to spoil aspects of The Poppy War in order to cover its goodness.
Fang Runin (Rin) is not doing so well. At the end of The Poppy War, she's just watched her Cike commander/shaman/troubled love interest Altan sacrifice himself to the flames of the vengeful Phoenix god, and in her grief-torn rage she sets fire to an entire island. (An. Entire. Island.) She singlehandedly ended the Third Poppy War against the Mugunese...by killing an entire population in one swoop.
As we entire The Dragon Republic, Rin's struggling with the emotional backlash of that decision and sliding the slippery slope down to PTSD-inflicted opium addiction. She's shaky, hard to control, and hard to predict. The Phoenix is winning. Her characteristic ego is flailing. The last thing she wants is to be in control of the Cike, a small band of powerful shamans who are also held on the precipice of madness in order to commune with their gods and reap the supernatural powers. She's making poor decisions, and it shows. What can a soldier do when her commander abandons her?
She finds a new commander, a new war, and a new path toward vengeance. But is lending her war-ending powers to another puppeteer the answer to this game?
I can't say I was expecting this novel to unfold in this way it did—mainly due to the fact that the plot was impossible to predict. It had a lot more boats than I was expecting, and appealed to the inner pirate/adventurer in me. It introduced aspects of Western civilization-inflicted colonialism parallels that were disturbing to read and disturbing to reflect upon. In traditional Kuang style, it reflected aspects of China's history that will make your heart ache, and your conscience guilty. It reflected on female roles in the military, gender imbalances, and sexual violence as a result of war. I really appreciated these inclusions. It's not a pretty story, but it is a necessary one—and in the context of this fantasy world it has the potential for a glorious re-do. I can't wait for Rin to burn it down.
Also, the sheer amount of game-changing moments in this novel left me in a state of perpetual tension. Who will betray whom, and when, and how? Who will die next? How will Rin's characteristic impulsiveness react to this latest reveal? And where will Rin and Nezha's wonderful hate-to-maybe-more dynamic go as they dance around their lies and truths?
Like the first novel in the series, The Dragon Republic has a lot to say. It was brutal, it was vicious, it was nauseating. It took no prisoners and no one's life was sacred. But, it was also poignant, original, and absolutely thrilling. I can't wait to see where Kuang takes Rin next—it's going to be an explosive journey.
Thank you so much to Harper Collins - Harper Voyager via NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.