- Author: R.F. Kuang
- Series: The Poppy War #2
- Genre: Fantasy
- No. of pages: 658
- Dates read: 27.06.2022 – 07.07.2022
- Star Rating: 5 stars
SPOILERS FOR THE DRAGON REPUBLIC, OBVS.
Plot: 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.
Now, The Poppy War was a 5 star read for me. I’d seen so much hype all over social media and I dived in hoping to feel the same way and thankfully I did. That left me feeling very nervous when I went into reading this book. Would I enjoy it as much as the first book? Is it going to be a case of second book syndrome?
These books were exactly on the same level here. I feel the first book contained a lot more content and covered a lot more ground. A lot had to be set up in the first book – the world building, Rin as a character, Altan as a character, all the relationship dynamics etc. This second book really focused more on the political aspect of the current situation and Rin processing her trauma and trying to figure herself and what she wanted out. Very different books but the exact same rating.
The writing as per usual was great. Kuang never hides behind a curtain with her writing. This world is a dark world, a war-stricken one and her writing really reflects that. I think Kuang does a great job of depicting the aftermath after a war. The exhaustion, the confusion, the grief. This book felt a lot slower in pace that the first book which I think was too its advantage. I also felt that Kuang did an amazing job with delivering the themes of colonisation, war, racism and colourism. The allusion (which isn’t meant to be subtle) of christianity in this book was done really well. I loved how Kuang took real-life events and molded it into her world. The parts of the story that were connected to real-life were my favourite parts, not because I liked what it covered, but it grounded the story in more realism than other fantasy books I have read. It hits you as you realise some of the stuff in this story is not made-up, it’s not fictional, this actually happened and people truly believed in these things and acted in accordance. It added to the horror of the story.
The plot was really good. This book felt more of a character focused story, funnily enough. This story felt like it was about Rin learning more about herself, her power, growing out of her need to be lead and to follow orders. She needed to learn to grasp her own power by her own hands rather than by the hands of someone else. She also needed to learn how to handle the Phoenix. A lot of conversation comes up about whether Rin is considered a feminist character. I don’t know whether I consider her to be. Not every strong powerful female character needs to be the epitome of a feminist icon. She is a morally grey, traumatised woman who has this unimaginable power that she can’t really control. She is looking out for herself, her friends and her country. That’s really as far as she goes. Gender plays a huge part in this story, in terms of how women are treated in the story, but I don’t personally feel like we are supposed to see Rin as this feminist character. Her main motivations aren’t inspired by gender inequality, her main motiviations are spurred on by war and that’s why we see her make the decisions we see her make. Of course she stands up to sexism etc. but her main story and character arc isn’t really that connected to gender equality or feminsin.
If you do want a more morally grey feminist character, read Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao.
One of the really interesting dynamics in this story is between that of Nezha and Rin. They play more or less perfect foils for one another. Nezha is rich while Rin is poor. Nezha has lighter-skin and more priviledge because of that while Rin is dark-skinned and experiences colourism and prejudice because of that. They are both shamans but while Rin embraces it, Nezha doesn’t. They both have different opinions when it comes to the events of this book and let me tell you I wasn’t surprised by the ending. I am interested to see what happens at the end of this series.
The world-building!!!! I want to read an entire book that is just about the world as a whole. Basically a history/religion book on Nikara, the Federation of Mugen, Speer and Hesperia plus the numerous others mentioned. I always say that I love an info dump and I enjoyed every bit of world dumping in this novel. It was so good and it makes you picture the story in a wider context. You’re no longer thinking of the here and now but also the histroy of this world and their future.
Overall, this was a great reading experience. I learnt so much and I am super scared but looking forward to the final book.