Published by Harper Voyager on August 6th 2019
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
The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.
SPOILER ALERT: As this is book 2 in The Poppy War series, there may be spoilers for The Poppy War within this review.
If you haven’t read The Poppy War yet, you should know that R.F. Kuang describes it as “Avatar the Last Airbender if Azula was the main character and everyone was on a lot of drugs”, and it is honestly even better than that description makes it sound – go check it out, and come back here once you’ve finished. If you’ve read The Poppy War already, ignore all that and keep reading!
The Poppy War had fantastic world-building, and a premise unlike anything I’d ever read. It introduced us to a cast of characters I quickly fell in love with, from the determined Rin and the eccentric (to put it politely) Jiang, to the charming Kitay and, my personal favourite, Nezha. The Poppy War was one of my favourite reads of 2018, so I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about The Dragon Republic and whether it could ever live up to the intense expectations I had based on the first book.
“They believe in a singular and all-powerful deity, which means they cannot accept the truth of other gods. And when nations start to believe that other beliefs lead to damnation, violence becomes inevitable.”
Well, let me just say right off, it absolutely did. This book is one of the best sequels I have ever read, and I haven’t read a climax that built so satisfyingly or that left me so astounded at the end since Golden Son by Pierce Brown. The Dragon Republic is possibly even darker than the first book, with Rin seeing first-hand the results of war and the awful things people can do to each other. In the beginning of the book, she is still reeling from her actions against Mugen, the loss of Altan, her new role as commander and an opium addiction. Driven by vengeance, she reluctantly signs up to fight alongside Yin Vaisra, who wants to replace the corrupt Su Daji with a democratic republic.
“You poor thing,” she said.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
She just hugged him tighter. She didn’t want this moment to end. She didn’t want to have to go.
“I just don’t want the world to break you.”
The main core of characters we grew to love in The Poppy War (well, the ones left standing anyway), return in The Dragon Republic, but each has grown substantially following their roles in the Third Poppy War. At Sinegard they were taught how to fight and how to go to war, but the aftermath of that war is something they could never have prepared for. Now, each has to consider the practicalities and ethics of democracy and dictatorship, and they’re forced to take sides in a complicated civil war. They struggle with the balance between what they feel needs to be done, and the costs of those actions. All the believable, complex character development we saw in book 1 is built on even further throughout The Dragon Republic, and at times your heart will break for the suffering these characters go through. The relationships are fantastically done, and they’re what ensure that despite the war and suffering, the book never becomes depressing. Kuang gives us relationships of all kinds, from romantic chemistry between two characters who shall remain nameless for fear of spoilers, to sibling-like banter between Rin and Ramsa, to brilliant friendship between Rin and Kitay.
The pacing is impeccable – something I think this second book actually did better than the first. I felt like a tightly-drawn string while reading, and Kuang expertly increases the tension until I felt like I should be physically buzzing with it and the need to know what happens next. The plot kept me hooked from the very first pages of the mysterious prologue, and the final third practically begs to be read in one epically addictive sitting. I also adore Kuang’s writing style; tight fight-scenes, believable, often hilariously witty dialogue, and classic yet poetic prose – it reminds me a little of Robin Hobb, who I also love.
The Poppy War was without a doubt, a five-star read for me, and I loved The Dragon Republic even more. I’m already looking forward to having an excuse to re-read both before the third book comes out, and I absolutely cannot wait to see where Kuang takes us next.