Title: The Dragon Republic
Author: R.F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: August 6, 2019
The Poppy War: ★★★★.5 [See review here]
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.
ARC provided by the publisher, Harper Voyager, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
“People will seek to use you or destroy you. If you want to live, you must pick a side. So do not shrink from war, child. Do not flinch from suffering. When you hear screaming, run towards it.”
Yikes, y’all. I thought The Poppy War destroyed me, but I was in no way prepared for the sequel. I’ll be honest, I dragged my feet a little on this one – I just wasn’t in the mood for such dense fantasy. But I am so glad I pushed through and read it. I don’t say this lightly: no author has every made me feel such a strong, vast array of emotions in a fantasy novel better than Kuang. This woman is the queen of feels, and once again she doesn’t pull any punches.
We pick up after the end of the Third Poppy War, following Rin and her gang of misfits who have frankly seen better days. Rin’s sole purpose is now to assassinate the Empress her sold her – and Altan – out to the Federation. Addicted to opium and a sham of a commander, the task is a daunting one, and even the Cike is beginning to lose hope. When the Dragon Warlord snatches them up and proposes a new Republic, Rin isn’t left with much of a choice but to join forces. Besides, at least another war will give her purpose again – and an outlet for her vengeance.
“The only thing permanent about this Empire is war.”
The Dragon Republic is broken down much like The Poppy War was – it seems like it could actually be divided into three separate books, with each section becoming darker than the last. And it brings to the table all of the things I loved about the first book. All of our favorite (and complex) characters are back, and the world building and magic system is still head and shoulders anything I’ve ever read before. But more than anything, the FEELINGS were back. I became so invested in these characters and this war. When bad decisions were made, I felt so much anxiety. When Rin was in a downward spiral, I felt anger and helplessness. When there was death (and oh man, is there death), true grief made an appearance. Betrayal, loss, love – everything was felt as if the book was happening to me instead of Rin.
Speaking of Rin, I want to touch on her for a minute. This character is so well written. I’ve never read anything like her before. It’s not that she’s a likable character – she isn’t. In fact, sometimes I wanted to shake her so hard her teeth rattled to knock some sense into her. And she is completely unredeemable. All she has to fuel herself is her vengeance, and it’s easy to see why. But I also loved watching her struggle with that, and struggle to hold on to pieces of her humanity, despite all of the atrocities she’s seen and committed – her love for her country, her friendship with Kitay. Those are the things that keep her grounded, and make her human. Rin fought her way back from the brink of opium addiction, found a way around a block on her magic, and managed to escape from so many people so many times that I lost count. She may not be likable, but she’s determined and stubborn and fierce – just don’t get on her bad side.
“You are the most powerful creature in this world right now. You have an ability that can begin or end wars. You could launch this Empire into a glorious new and united age, and you could also destroy us. What you don’t get to do is remain neutral. When you have the power that you do, your life is not your own.”
Kitay, on the other hand, was my bright burning spot in this entire book. He is hands down my favorite and I will do anything to protect him. He is good and pure and honest, and watching him struggle with war, and knowing people he loves have committed such heinous acts, was such a hard thing. But like everyone else around him, he’s in a constant war zone, and had to grow up very quickly. Because if one thing’s for sure, he and Rin aren’t at Sinegard anymore, and no one will ever be the same. The only question is if they can come out of this alive, and without losing everything good about themselves in the process.
“Kitay was pure. He was the best person she had ever known. Kitay shouldn’t know how it felt to call a god of vengeance. Kitay was the last thing in the world that was still fundamentally kind and good, and she’d die before she corrupted that.”
I ended up giving this book 4 stars. The beginning was a little slow pace-wise for me, although that may have just been where my headspace was at. I did struggle to get into it, but by the 50% mark I was hanging on to every word. And I feel like I did mention this about The Poppy War in my review, but some of the war schemes are so technical that I found myself skimming a bit through those parts – this is not a bad thing, it’s just not for me. And BE WARNED, readers. This book has JUST as many triggers as The Poppy War. I honestly stopped writing them down, because there were so many. Basically if you can think of a trigger, it is in this book. This series is DARK – make sure you are in the right frame of mind to read it.
This book completely destroyed me. I feel like I read the last third with my mouth hanging completely open. I laughed, and cried, and almost threw the book against the wall. I had to get up and walk around and take breaks because I felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore. If you loved the Poppy War, do not wait to read the sequel. Or maybe do wait – the ending is vicious, and the third book does not come out anytime soon.
The Dragon Republic released on August 6, 2019.
*All quotations taken from an ARC and are subject to change prior to publication.