The Dragon Republic

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

A fantastic installment! The fantasized Chinese history, the military strategies, the dialogue, the relationships/bonds among characters [Kitay and Rin awwww], and just the overall plot was stunning. Honestly, Kuang is a genius. Everything about this world is believable and dire. High stakes are constant and brutal. I'm seriously nervous for the final novel because you KNOW there's not going to be a "happy" ending by any means. I can't imagine how Rin's story will end, or anyone else for that matter.The only reason this isn't 5 stars is because of the fact that everyone, enemies and friends alike, were condescending, patronizing, and belittling to Rin throughout the whole novel. She was called a whore, foolish, stupid, dumb, and variations of "poor stupid Speerly" at least once a chapter. It was frustrating to read that this seemingly most powerful individual in the story is constantly being called names and put down when she's done so much for these wars - without her, where would they be??? So that put me off at times, but otherwise this story was phenomenal!
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This took a while to get to because I was so immersed with the first novel. The Dragon Republic is every bit as thought provoking, heart wrenching, and an all in all rollercoaster like its predecessor. I found myself beginning to understand Rin's character in ways that I wasn't able to in the first novel. Overall, I'm genuinely glad that I got to pick this up beforehand and that we're getting more of this fantastic story.
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Rin struggles through an opium haze to come to terms with her horrific actions ending the Third Poppy War, and fights to maintain her power and her sanity. The only way she can reconcile her actions is to become a weapon—point her and aim. But who will she choose to wield her?

I wanted to love this so much more than I did. The Poppy War was one of my favorite books of last year, and I was super excited by all of the glowing reviews. However, this left me underwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong—or misinterpret those three stars—this was a good book. It just wasn't one that I was in love with. So it took me a bajillion years (12 days) to read it.

At times I was sucked in, and then my enthusiasm would turn into a slog as I waded through what felt like eons of Rin vomiting, Rin whining, Rin falling into her own vomit, Rin whining some more, Rin bitching at others for whining, Rin jumping from one cause to another, swayed more easily than a dandelion in the wind.

Basically, I was just exhausted by Rin.

Rin hating her power. Rin getting cut off from her power and wanting it back. Rin getting her power and it not being enough. (view spoiler)

I was so frustrated why everyone was in love with her/fascinated by her/wanted her/was willing to die for her. I just...I dunno?

Also, I was frustrated by how many of the characters felt under-developed. They existed to further Rin's development, even when her development would have been served better by grinding her face into her own vomit.


So enough of my bitching.

I did enjoy the overall plot. It was exciting and went to some verrrrrry dark places, and traveled all over the breadth of Nikara with a lot of different enemies and implications and twists and turns. Venka was one of my favorite characters, although I wished that she had been used more, and than Kitay also had more screen time (and less Nezha and Altan because fuck them). The Hesperian allegory was fascinating and the parallels to history were really thought-provoking.

The book thoroughly explored the consequences of sacrifice, and how a minor sacrifice for someone can have disastrous effects for those who aren't in power.

I don't know if I'll continue with the third book, however, mostly because Rin's character arc became less engaging for me.

But don't let my underwhelmed thoughts deter you. Check it out for yourself.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
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Second book syndrome? No way! This book is full of political intrigue,violence,alliances,unsure decisions, defeats and supposed victories. Rin is still suffering from the conclusion of book 1 with extreme guilt and the feelings of being thrust into something she really doesn’t want. After an alliance is offered to help in the defeat of a common enemy, Rin is all in with her temper and too quick reactions to certain situations. Of course this wouldn’t be a great book without a few bumps(or many) in the road. Expect deceptions and some very surprising revelations in this book. It’s so hard to review a sequel without giving too much away, but if you enjoyed the last half of The Poppy War, you will love this. It leaves you with an uprising to happen in the near future that has me craving Book 3 already. A must read if you enjoyed The Poppy War!
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3.25/5 stars

Lemme start this review by saying that I have never been a fan of military driven plots and find talk of strategy quite dull....which is why I didn't enjoy this book as much as it's predecessor.. I very much enjoyed Rin in The Poppy War, but I found her incredibly frustrating in this book. She is such a volatile character and leaves me screaming, "WHY WOULD YOU DO/SAY XYZ?!". But...and I say BUT, I understand why she is that way. Rin's story is a story of constant rage and grief. A big ole pile of flaming rage that consumes all. My favorite part of this novel was Nezha. What a fucking glow up, amirite!? HE MUST BE PROTECTED AT ALL COSTS....and I choose not to believe his actions in the last few chapters of this book. Cannot wait for book 3!
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It actually took me a little while to get through this sequel, and not because it wasn’t good. It was just as intriguing and compelling as the first book, and I think because of that I wanted to savor the book a little longer. Well, that and I was reading it at a particularly busy time, so it made it hard to read for longer than ten minutes here and there for most of it.

There are so many great complexities in this book, especially with the consequences of actions and revelations from the first book. Oh, and then there’s characters who you thought were dead that turned out to not be dead. I’m not mentioning names but that was something I wasn’t expecting, which was pretty cool.

I felt like I got to explore so much more when it came to the world, the religions, the provinces and nations, the history of these wars…it all became just so much more expansive. It was like peeling open layer after layer of new information as the chapters went by.

I was so engrossed by this story, so I’m actually glad that I took time to completely read through this. Maybe it’ll make the wait for the next book not feel so long.
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Last year, The Poppy War shook the foundations of the fantasy community and demanded to be seen. It was brutal, horrifying, and overflowing with vengeful gods and destructive humanity—I couldn’t put it down. It was one of my favorite novels of the year and one of the best debut novels I’d  ever read. I’ve never carried any doubt about Kuang’s ability to follow up with its sequel, but The Dragon Republic  improved and expanded upon its predecessor in every conceivable way. 

Between the political machinations, the social commentary, the horrors of war, the incredible character development, and the cosmic, drug-laced thread of shamanism that connected them all, I don’t know what I can rightfully say about The Dragon Republic’s effect on me aside from telling you all that I am utterly and thoroughly obsessed with these books. I could rant on this world, these characters, and this magic system for days, but it’s something better experienced for yourself.

Kuang does not pull punches, take prisoners, or spare feelings. She’s here to tell this story in all of its burning, vicious glory and she’s done a damned incredible job of it thus far. I have no clue what to expect from the third book, but I’d follow Kuang anywhere from here and I can’t wait to see where she leads us. If you haven’t yet read these books, make them your highest priority. I can give no further praise here than to shove them into any many hands as are willing to take them and let Rin’s story fly.
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This was a rollercoaster from start to end. A lot happens in this sequel, and it definitely never fails to keep you guessing. I absolutely love the set-up of the world and the geopolitical dynamics here. Also appreciate that each character isn’t neatly divided into good/bad, and that different facets of their personalities and principles are explored.
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I hesitate to say that I love these books. And not because they’re not good, but because they’re about terrible people who do terrible things. There is literally no one who is good. No one who is purely in the right. Everyone’s been touched by the wars; everyone’s looking out for themselves, first and foremost. There are always hidden motivations and ambitions, and you don’t know who you can trust. Like. The Poppy War was fucking dark. It was hard and grueling, even when it was just about a girl who tested into the most ruthless academy in the country. But when the Third Poppy War began, it just got worse. It was hate and cruelty and people who lost their humanity and people who never had it to begin with. It was what happens when you strip away all that is good and kind, and you bring out the worst in each other. You thought that was bad? The Dragon Republic is even more horrible.

This one was almost more heavy, in a sense, because it was about the aftermath of war. It was thousands starving and displaced, soldiers trying to run from their nightmares, and good people dealing with their choices and the things that happened to them in the past. It was almost worse, because the war doesn’t end. The enemies and allies just shift, and the cowardly and stupid Warlords can’t stop bickering long enough to help their own people. And Daji. Daji sold out her own country for reasons unknown, and now Rin is doing her absolute best to take her down. But Rin is stuck in the past, barely surviving, cut off from her Phoenix god and the fire that makes her feel in control. Buried so deep in her own grief and anger over Altan, and what happened to him, that she can’t see beyond her own desires. Her own feelings. She’s fed on her hatred for so long, it’s all she truly knows.

And I’ll be honest. There were times that this book almost lost me. Because I didn’t really get the infatuation with Altan. I felt like I didn’t get to know him, because he left the school after he graduated, and then he becomes a too-young Commander of a group of shamans who need his help to survive, because they can’t face their gods on their own. We only saw the vengeful Altan, the warrior, the guy who couldn’t handle the power without burning himself up in the process. When Nezha called him Rin’s abuser, he wasn’t completely wrong. Altan did some awful shit to her, and I don’t think the story necessarily wanted you to be okay with that. But I wasn’t here for Rin’s bullshit because of it. She was so cruel sometimes, so ignorant and uncaring of everyone else’s feelings, that I started to dislike her a little bit. But she’s always been vicious, and I love that, I really do.

I love that this series has such morally gray characters, and absolute villains who know they’re villains but don’t give a fuck. I’m not talking about the loathsome assholes, but the ones like Daji and Moag and yes, Vaisra. I love books that tackle these big questions and morals, that make you rethink everything you know about what it means being human. These characters are ruthless, and they feel. They feel deeply, and they aren’t afraid to show that. I just couldn’t always get behind the fact that it was war after war after war. That it was putting all of these people who have been through SO MUCH and who are still reeling from the Federation in another horrible situation. For so long, they felt like they were winning, and they celebrated. And I just couldn’t help but think: these victories are hollow because the people are so defeated they can’t put up any resistance. 

But don’t worry, there’s Kitay, the one person who always sees the truth. The shrewdly intelligent kid who just needed a purpose, a place to put all of his anger toward because then he didn’t have to feel all of his grief and the losses, didn’t have to think about Golyn Niis again. I still can’t get over what the Federation did to that city and its people. So I was SUPER glad The Dragon Republic didn’t shy away from showing PTSD and the effects of war. Everyone is dealing with it in their own way, even if it’s a shit way (re: Rin). And Venka!! My DARLING. I love that she got more page-time, that she wasn’t just brushed aside. Come to think of it, no one is brushed aside. People who were around for even a tiny bit end up becoming bigger players in the end. Or my favorites DIE. SUNI. BAJI. I’m still upset about Ramsa’s death, though. I don’t think I will ever get over that one. *sobs*

I also missed the fuck out of Jiang. I really think he and Daji will either a) team up in the 3rd book or b) fight each other to the possible death. And since the Dragon Emperor didn’t actually die, my theory is that his god took over his mind and body, and he’s the grotto dragon that has been sucking the life out of Nezha since he was a kid. There’s something about the Trifecta that isn’t nearly over yet. They are at the heart of this, and there is no way that Daji won’t want to destroy the Hesperians. She and Rin are DEFINITELY gonna team up at some point. And I need way more background about the three. There wasn’t enough in here for me, though it was great to see how it all started with them and just how corrupted the power made them. But I NEED to know more; I have a hunger. And really, I just want Jiang back!! BRING HIM BACK!! AND CHAGHAN, MY LOVE!

There is so much going on underneath the main plot, and everything feels like it just keeps building up toward that finale. But I still don’t know where it’s gonna go, or how it’ll shape up. And that worries the fuck out of me. Like I said, you can’t trust ANYONE. You think there’s one true enemy for so long until you realize that another didn’t leave, or that you actually had to worry about the one that seemed so benevolent and just. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to move on from this story and these characters. I’m writing this review a few hours after I finished it, because I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. I literally gasped aloud over the Dragon Emperor theory that popped into my head after I was trying and failing to sleep. I’m not going to survive the 3rd book, I already know this. Good thing I’ll have to wait a long-ass time to read it because I’M NOT READY!
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Picking up where the first installment left off, readers are thrust back into Rin's world as she grapples with the decisions she executed at the conclusion of The Poppy Wars. Now the commander of the Cike, Rin struggles with a crippling opium addiction that keeps the Phoenix at bay but also leaves her unable to make the best decisions for her small band of fighters. The only plan that Rin has is to take down the Empress who sold them out and recapture Feylen before he destroys Nikara. This leads Rin to accept the offer to fight for the Dragon Warlord; however, as the pieces are placed on the chessboard for the inevitable confrontation, Rin's loyalties and ability to command are tested in ways that she did not expect.

R.F. Kuang's second installment of this grimdark trilogy nicely expands the world, introducing new players and sections of Nikara that were mentioned but not explored in the first novel. In addition to new faces, several familiar favorites return to assist and also hinder Rin on her quest for vengeance. In a world where survival is not guaranteed for any character, some of the deaths and betrayals were truly heartbreaking but help push Rin to her limits as she grows and moves away from a need for acceptance toward true independence. 

Readers will also appreciate that several threads from the first novel were developed here, some of which only seemed like passing mentions. The Trifecta is finally explained and the source of their power and motivations also becomes clear. Though the story offered more of a slow burn, the development and details all added up to an explosive conclusion that sees new battle lines being drawn for a final confrontation that will test Rin's abilities as both the conduit for the Phoenix's power and as a military leader.

As with the first book, I cannot recommend The Dragon Republic enough. While this felt like the middle novel in a trilogy, meaning it seemed like a moment for character development while shifting the pieces into place for the final book, the action and conclusion of several loose ends allowed it to feel very satisfying while still leaving enough to explore for the final installment. The Dragon Republic is guaranteed to land in my top ten this year. The third book can't come soon enough.
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ARC provided by Harper Voyager on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!

This is the follow up to one of my favorite grim dark fantasies of all time - and I was terrified it wouldn't live up to the hype. BUT Y'ALL - this was just absolutely amazing. And honestly?? I think I liked The Dragon Republic even more than I liked The Poppy War - which I wasn't sure was possible.

With the end of The Poppy War I was not quite sure the direction this series as a whole was going to go and had no idea what to expect going into this one. The last book had some major devastation happen throughout it and I had no idea where Kuang was going to take us next and how. But wow did she truly take us on a journey with Rin in this second book - both in the world and in Rin herself. We got to see so much of how the events of the first book really impacted the world and the people in it in this installment, which I thought was great and terrible to see all at the same time. Things weren't all wrapped up in a nice package and immediately right itself in this book - these people and this world are truly suffering together and Kuang doesn't shy away from that. The key relationships are hurting and all of the characters go through intense, and realistic, character and relationship development through the course of the story. I loved seeing that in this installment - because these relationships and how they changed really impacted the world and the story and felt like they had real weight to them. Overall very refreshing to see on the page.

Kuang also really delivers when it comes to battle/war staging. Wow, did those scenes feel real and brutal and well done. Like the first installment in this series, the war battles and strategy scenes were so, so well done. This universe is really blessed by having Kuang write in it. 

I love how Kuang weaves in real history allegories into this fantasy series. It's devastating and impactful all in the right ways and times to really make you think on it. She really goes there and doesn't back down to really make you think about the implications and impact these things and these groups of people have made. Looking at you Hesperians. 

Another thing I HAVE to mention is the emotional impact of the story. The ending?? The twist?? THE DUMPLING SCENE?? Help. The ending was so impactful I can't get it out of my head and cannot believe I have to wait to know what happens next!
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This book is filled with so much war, so many twists that I was not expecting and even though I was cheering for a certain individual (will not say who, to avoid spoilers), the end of this book just makes me hope that Rin gets her revenge! One thing that I wish had not happened was the loss of some of my favorites, it just made me really sad. The world is still fantastic! The magic in this book is fantastic! The characters, the plot, just everything was fantastic! I neeeeeeeed book 3 NOW!
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I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this book for months! This is certainly one of those sequels for which a reader waits impatiently as soon as news of its release comes out. I have been looking forward to reading the next book by R. F. Kuang since I rushed through the first Poppy War book. 

I still enjoy the magic and Rin’s characterization. Her newly found heritage as a Speerly has definitely shaped her approach to the book’s events. In this book, she seems much more comfortable with her abilities and status as a shaman warrior in the Cike. There is a fair balance of political posturing and violent confrontations. The Dragon Republic takes the reader in a new direction as Rin and her “allies” work towards defeating the Empress and the Northern Warlords. The presence of the Hesperians certainly did not help matters, especially with their believed superiority over the Nikarans and their view of the Cike as damned souls to be saved.

All in all, this sequel was definitely worth the wait.
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Title: Dragon Republic
Author: R. F. Kuang
Pages: 672
Release Date: August 6, 2019
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Series or Stand-Alone: Book 2 in a trilogy
Stars: 4/5
People of Color?: Yes, a retelling of 20th century Chinese history
LGBTQ?: Unsure
Bechdel Test? (Depiction of Women): Yes
Trigger Warning: So many warnings! There is hardcore addiction, dirty warfare, entire cities of people mutilated and killed, abuse, etc. This is a very heavy book that covers heavy topics with no promises of happy endings for anyone.

I received a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Wow, Ok, I don’t even know where to begin. I am not going to give too much of a summary. If you’ve read book 1, then book 2 continues from the absolute state of chaos the previous book ended on. It’s all the more terrible because this book continues to be loosely based on 20th-century Chinese history. Kuang may be the author who has best encapsulates the essence of warfare in her books that I have read. She weaves in magic and monsters into her story as well. 
	I must admit, I had to put down the book several times because the themes were overwhelming. So, I would definitely make sure you are in the right mood to read this. When the action does break, we follow a group of special forces all battling with addiction to opium. When there are quiet moments, we hear the gods rage in Rin’s head. 
	This book did not hold any punches and was a perfect sequel from the Poppy War. I look forward to what Kuang does in book 3 as well as in her future works!
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I was never going to love The Dragon Republic as much as The Poppy War, so let’s get that out of the way; The Poppy War is a book of two halves, and I preferred the first. However, it was still a 5 star read for me (review here), and with Kuang’s assertions on Twitter that The Dragon Republic was an objectively superior book, I was still cautiously optimistic about the sequel. And I didn’t hate it, but I’m disappointed.

Pacing is an issue in both of these books; in The Poppy War, things happen too fast; it feels like two books crammed into one. But I really didn’t mind that – I read a lot of literary fiction, so when I venture into genre fiction it’s with entirely different expectations and needs to be met – I like a bit of nonstop action in my fantasy as long as it doesn’t get too overwhelming, which I don’t think it did. But with The Dragon Republic the issue is the exact opposite. Nothing – and I cannot stress this enough – happens for the first three quarters of this book. Where The Poppy War feels like two books for the price of one, The Dragon Republic feels like a novella stretched out thin across 500 pages. Things of course do happen, technically, but there is so much filler. Stakes feel low (a problem that The Poppy War certainly did not have), because for the major part of this book, it feels like you’re spinning your wheels and still waiting for the main players to enter the ring.

But let’s talk about what I did like: the characters and the setting are some of my favorites from any fantasy series that I have ever read. The returning characters are as complex, endearing, and frustrating as ever, and the new characters shine as well – Vaisra in particular is a brilliant creation. And if The Dragon Republic has one thing that’s superior to The Poppy War, it’s the world building and the magic system, which is infinitely more fleshed out here with some truly fascinating developments.

It took me three months to read this, but I want to stress that every time I did pick it up, I enjoyed it. The issue is that I just seldom reached for it. I really hope this is just second book syndrome, and I do think one thing that Kuang was able to achieve with this book was laying a really solid foundation for whatever is to come next (and with that ending, I can promise you that the third book is going to destroy me). But even though I would still recommend this series wholeheartedly, this just wasn’t as good as The Poppy War, much as it pains me to say it.
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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.
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This is a worthy successor to the amazing "The Poppy War." Rin, along with her compatriots, suffer a lot more. I mean, that's not really a spoiler, because things weren't going to be peaches and cream after the Poppy War ended. Rin doesn't know how to cope, and no one knows how to help her. I spent a lot of time yelling - both in my head and occasionally aloud - "INVENT THERAPY AND THEN GO TO IT." (And then much, much later there is a kind of therapy and I get very relieved.)

There's not much I can say about the plot in the review that won't be a spoiler. I can't even tell you who she spends most of her time with. I will say this took me a lot longer to read than I expected because it's pretty brutal - not surprisingly, given the plot of The Poppy War, but aftermath books are always harder on me. I don't deal with when people I care for are bogged down or taking wrong emotional turns for reasons I want them to rise above. (See above re: INVENT THERAPY AND THEN GO TO IT.) It's one thing to have brutality done to you; it's another to inflict it on yourself because you don't think you deserve any better. It's a journey that's sadly far too common, but it's really very tough to witness, even in fictional form. So be ready, and be warned. It's such a very good book, and story, and I still can't believe this series is a debut series. But gird your hearts well.
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“The Dragon Republic couldn’t possibly live up to The Poppy War,” I thought to myself before opening the book. After all, The Poppy War was one of my favorite books of 2018 and it had the element of !surprise amazing! going for it (since I acquired an early ARC and went in without any expectations). Plus I’ve always had a hard time with second books in trilogies - they lack the magical ‘discovering a new world’ feeling of a first book and they don’t have the satisfaction of a third book.

Oh ye of little faith.

Okay, I’ll fully admit that I’d forgotten much of the first book, despite having read it twice. Worst book memory ever. BUT I’m still confident in saying that The Dragon Republic IS EVEN BETTER THAN TPW. YOU HEARD ME.

(Side note: if you also suffer book amnesia, fear not - R.F. Kuang has you covered! She did such a great job of reintroducing the characters, struggles, and stakes - I had no trouble diving right back in.)

TDR is so so SO powerful, packed full of emotions and themes. It’s both incredibly brilliant and so stressful to read, but in the best possible way. Because NO ONE IS SAFE. Its war, damnit, and Kuang does not pull her punches.

I can’t even begin to explain how many powerful themes come into play here. Some are familiar ones from the first book (addiction, morality in times of war, vengeance, wealth divide, racism, war crimes, soldier vs. commander responsibility, and so much more), while others are brand new or more strongly emphasized [spoiler redacted - will be added and spoiler tagged on goodreads]. My head spun with everything going on. And yet none of it feels awkwardly placed. It all fits seamlessly into the story.

I’m not usually a fan of villains. Rin is one of the only villainous characters I’ve ever rooted for, even though in many ways it felt wrong to do so. And she often doesn’t do herself any favors, acting impulsively and thinking about, saying, and doing terrible things to others. But there’s so much pressure on her and I couldn’t help but to want her to succeed. She’s tenacious and determined to survive, despite it all, and it’s hard not to be drawn to that kind of willpower.

But she’s not the only character I’m invested in from the series. AHHH there are so many! The characters act consistently and they feel so real. I can’t name some of the ones who appear in this book because spoilers, but I will mention that I absolutely love Kitay. As a former accountant, there were some jokes in the book that made me laugh so hard. Kitay has my heart!

Also, TDR made me understand why reading about Rin attending Sinegard in TPW was so necessary. I remember that the switch from academy to war was jarring for some readers and I’m not sure I understood why it was so important to tell the story in that way. But having read TDR, I can now say that the trilogy wouldn’t be nearly as powerful without our having spent a significant amount of time in Sinegard first.

Anyway, I’m writing a LOT because there’s so much to say about this book. There’s no way I can cover everything I felt or thought about this book in one review, so here’s a small sampling of my emotions and reactions throughout: laughter, gasps, sadness, worry, surprise, shock, heartbreak, devastation, empowerment.

READ THIS BOOK. Just remember, when you do finally sit down with a fresh, shiny copy of the book, do as Fonda Lee’s front cover blurb says and “brace yourself.”

Advanced copy provided by Harper Collins through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

(There are a ton of triggers in this book, but given that TPW was the mother of triggering books, I’ll just warn you that TDR is about on par with TPW.)

NOTE: Review links added!
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I am stunned after finishing The Dragon Republic. At over 500 pages, I was nervous that I'd be bored or that the book would go in a direction I didn't care for, but The Dragon Republic exceeded all my expectations. It was riveting and compelling, exploring the cost of war, the lure of power, morality, religion, and colonialism.

Rin is the kind of character that I wouldn't say I love, but I can understand and appreciate her complexity. She carries so much rage because of her childhood and how people have treated her, and she's impulsive and arrogant. The stakes are high in The Dragon Republic, and the many military strategy and battle scenes are strong, both brutal and unflinching. I loved the supporting characters, from Kitay and Nezha to Daji and Vaisra.

Kuang has really improved as a writer and delved deeper into the compelling world she's created. I can't wait for the final book in the trilogy.
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5/5 stars — an exceptional sequel worthy of The Poppy War

contains spoilers for The Poppy War but NOT The Dragon Republic

I haven't read a book of this length so quickly since I was in my teens. The Dragon Republic, R.F. Kuang's brilliant addition to The Poppy War series, certainly isn't for children, but it held the same thrill as all my childhood favorites with the added perspective of an adult take on war and the accompanying subtler types of violence. This book is heavy and dark, but absolutely impossible to put down.

Rin begins the book shaken by the death of Altan Trengsin, who was commander, teacher, and abuser in one messy package. She's also heavily dependant on opium to maintain control of her shamanic powers—and to deaden her memories of the atrocities she saw and committed in the Third Poppy War. The Dragon Republic is a story of military strategy, tyranny, colonial influence, and magic, but it still centers Rin's character as its driving force. This is her story; not of redemption, but of self-discovery and gaining intimate familiarity with her own strengths and weaknesses.

Rin is the least likeable protagonist I've ever read, but also (within reason) one of the most relatable. She's motivated by pain and praise; she's judgemental and filled with self-loathing. Kuang pulls no punches when it comes to Rin's character, filling her to the eyeballs with negative traits. And it works. By being authentically herself down to the last internalized horror, Rin is dreadfully and perfectly compelling. This is true of all Kuang's characters, down to the minor players who appear only a few times. They're messy and awful and real. 

Kuang also works wonders with language in terms of both linguistics and prose. Without going so far as to invent whole languages, she weaves linguistic associations into her worldbuilding so that certain names/places instantly give you chills. Golyn Niis? Forever ingrained in my hindbrain as terrifying, but it sounded scary even before the events of the previous book. Hesperian? Sounds European and lofty in a holier-than-thou way, which is right on. The prose varies from Rin's unadorned introspection at the height of her addiction to punchy dialogue that further cements Rin coming into her own.

There's so much more to analyze and praise in the way Kuang constructs setting, conflict, and character arcs, but other reviews will (and have) done it better than I can. There's also a lot to unpack regarding fictionalized but universal lessons about treatment of refugees, technologically advanced nations interfering in other countries' conflicts to gain power and withholding aid while pushing religion, and internalized racism/colorism and classism, but those discussions are better left to people who can speak from a place of experience. 

I'll keep it simple: read this book! If you enjoyed the first installment in the series, you know what to expect here. The Dragon Republic lives up to The Poppy War's legacy, delivering just as many moments of triumph, rage, and devastation. [My favorite quote isn't one of the most poignant or beautiful, but I think it sums up the peak of Rin's arc in this book, the moment I fell in love with her character all over again: "Fuck Altan, fuck his legacy, and fuck his trident. It was time she started using a weapon that would keep her alive." (hide spoiler)]

** content warnings: explicit wartime violence, rape, colorism, (fantasy) racism, referenced genocide and mass murder, gore, drug addiction, medical experimentation
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