The Dragon Republic

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

TWs: violence (so much, though not as bad as The Poppy War), classism, racism, rape (discussion of it and attempted rape), drug use and addiction, death, maiming

These are most definitely NOT all of the trigger warnings, though these are ones I’ve recorded. Please look into more complete lists of trigger warnings so you can decide if this book is for you.

“Brace yourself,” Fonda Lee says in her blurb for this book. And she’s right. The Dragon Republic goes all out from page 1, pushing the boundaries of its world further and introducing more major players – along with the return of some familiar ones. Secrets and betrayals abound in this book, making it not only as brutal as The Poppy War, but many times more heartbreaking.

*There are spoilers for The Poppy War ahead. Proceed with caution.*

"I just don't want the world to break you."

The book begins with Rin and Altan’s crew on the run, still reeling from the events from the last book. Rin especially is worse for wear. She’s grieving for the people she’s lost, and the Phoenix refuses to leave her alone. But when a person she thought dead shows up, she gets drawn back into a war for the future of Nikan. Only this one isn’t against enemies outside her country, it’s against enemies within. A still-recovering Nikan is being torn apart by civil war right after it barely survived the Third Poppy War.

Once again, Rin’s characterization was phenomenal. You can see the toll her actions have taken on her – how what she did at the end of The Poppy War haunts her. She looks for absolution, she doesn’t want to feel its weight on her shoulders, she doesn’t want to take responsibility for it. But there is no excusing her actions – she won a war, yes, but at a terrible cost, and she has to learn to live with it. She’s not the same girl she was in The Poppy War – she’s committed atrocities beyond comprehension, much less forgiveness – but she’s still determined and breathing, which says so much, after everything’s she’s been through.

Rin’s actions in The Poppy War have consequences beyond her conscience though. She is addicted to opium, to the point where she dreads sobriety. And this book handles her opium addiction very well, and very realistically. I’ve heard many reviewers mention this, but I’ll say it again: her battle against her opium addiction is given the attention and development it deserves. The book takes care in showing how it affects her, and does so in a very respectful manner, which is all we can ask for.

Another unintended affect of Rin’s actions was how they’ve suddenly thrusted her into the spotlight. Many people realize just how much raw destructive power Rin has – and that her power makes her a valuable ally to have. The war that breaks out is just as fraught with politics as it is with blood, and Rin finds herself having to navigate an increasingly more complicated political arena, filled with people who want to use her as weapon.

"This was what the balance of power looked like now. People like her waved a hand and millions were crushed within the confines of some elemental disaster, flung off the chessboard of the world like irrelevant pieces." 

The presence of Hesperians also complicates matters further. International politics make their way into Nikan’s civil war, which furthers to broaden the scope of the world, giving it more nuance and depth.

The development of the other characters, besides Rin, is phenomenal as well. The characters have their own motivations and political alliances, their own pasts and decisions to make, and this book really showcases that. Kitay, Altan, even Empress Su Daji, are fleshed out further. And [REDACTED] returns, and his backstory and life are given more attention as well.

Out of all of these character’s arcs, it was Kitay’s that saddened me the most. His character arc from The Poppy War to The Dragon Republic was so heartbreaking because he was – and truthfully still is – the kindest, sweetest person in the book. But this war was not kind to him, and he changed in response. He has so much anger and resentment festering within him, so much that Rin recognizes herself in him…and that change is scary and sad to see.

(I’m also, truthfully, scared for him. Specifically, I’m scared for what Rin may do to him. She said something I found to be a little bit foreboding in this book, and I hope it isn’t foreshadowing anything.)

Altan is…whew.

This book brings so many more facts about Altan to light, and they are not savory. I found him to be terrible but understandable in The Poppy War, but this book shattered every perception I’ve ever had of him and reconstructed him in a way that I can’t look at without feeling disgust. I can’t believe I ever liked him. I mean, he’s still understandable. But he’s beyond redeemable.

The ending of this book ended me. This is the type of ending that will bring you to your knees. It’s as damaging as it is shocking, and it promises pain and bloodshed. There’s a war brewing in the next book, but the conflict that will be at the very center, the one that will hurt your heart, is the one between former friends.

"Fire and water looked so lovely together. It was a pity they destroyed each other by nature." 

This is actually kind of embarrassing, but I saw this quote in my notes while writing this review and I nearly started crying.

Make no mistake, there’s no discernible romance in this book. This book is much too complex for that. (And I definitely don’t ship any of the characters together – there’s only so much you can put another person through before forfeiting a chance of a relationship with them.) But I think…in another life for these characters, it may have been in the cards for them.

I think that in another life, a lot of things would’ve been in the cards for all of the characters.

The Dragon Republic is building this series up to its inevitable conclusion, laying the groundwork for a destructive finale. I can’t see an ending for Rin at this point that will end with her being happy or, at the very least, getting some much-needed peace, but I’m desperately hoping for one. She is an objectively terrible person, yes – but she’s one that has had terrible things done to her, so many, that I can’t help but root for her anyway.

Anyway, I’ll be waiting for the final installment in Rin’s saga of suffering desperately, aggressively rereading books one and two before then. Though I do worry for it. Because since The Poppy War was brutal, and The Dragon Republic was devastating, then the last book can only be heartbreaking.
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This book was a RIDE. An emotional, difficult ride. And I loved it: seeing Rin mess up over and over; it was frustrating and realistic and I appreciated seeing her journey and healing and comeuppance. Just... everything that happened attacked me in some way and I'm not okay??? I may or may not need the third book... ASAP,
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Runin “Rin” Fang is (still) reeling from her actions, which led to the end of the Third Poppy War and victory for the Empire. However, the victory has left Rin feeling hollow due to the deaths of her friends, her teachers, and her comrades. Everything she’d witnessed throughout the war: death, rape, starvation, mutilation, her lack of control as a shaman over a goddess, her addiction to opium, and the betrayal she and her Unit suffered towards the end of the war has left Rin in a depressive state of mind. As a soldier, Rin believes her only purpose lies in seeking revenge against those who betrayed her and the other denizens of the Empire. Lacking support, resources, and leadership skills, Rin leads the 13th Division to fight their remaining enemies. However, Rin and her soldiers are approached by Yin Vaisra—the Dragon Warlord, the Head of the House of Yin, and the father of one of her Sinegard classmates—and, he has a proposition for her: join up with him to form a “democratic” Republic amongst the now disbanded 12 Provinces and he will assist her with her vengeance. Rin—suspecting hidden motives and desiring to remain a soldier—agrees to the Dragon Warlord’s terms. As Rin works with her Unit and the Dragon Province, she is reunited with her former classmates who make their own decisions regarding the civil war that has broken out between the Empire and the Dragon Republic. This time, she has to determine her worth within this latest conflict. In order to do this, Rin develops from soldier to puppet to commander; it is a rough, but essential growth for Rin!

Fans of "The Poppy War," other military fiction, and grimdark will enjoy this sequel. As the world expands, so does the world-building, which is found in the characters and the weapons, which are based on military history and Chinese culture and folklore. It must be mentioned that anyone who couldn’t finish "The Poppy War" and/or are triggered by real life acts of violence should NOT read this book! While not all readers are into military literature, actual events of war, such as rape, is mentioned in this novel. Otherwise, expect another well-written story by R.F. Kuang. 

"The Dragon Republic" is an amazing sequel. The story picks up where "The Poppy War" left off and it is both creative and realistic for the type of grimdark and military fantasy the author is telling the readers. Parts of the plot and the narrative can drag on at times, but they are necessary for the story the author is telling everyone. I can’t wait for the next book, even though I must.
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The Poppy War trilogy continues to pull exactly zero punches as Rin and crew are still reeling from their experiences in Book 1. The promise of a better future comes in the form of a republic founded by Lord Vaisra of the Dragon Province. Left with few options but to see it through, Rin goes on an expedition that goes completely wrong with Empress Daji interfering at every step of the way.

I loved all the new characters and depth of world-building this book brought. The Hesperians are so interesting (even though completely dastardly). The series continues to provide no easy answers as to what better looks like. The political intrigue is top notch, especially since we, the reader, are trying to figure it all out beside Rin. In terms of specific moments, I definitely loved this bit with some dumplings and just how literal the backstabbing was towards the end.

The magic continues to delight and is in no way a distraction from the brutality of civil war that colors these books. It's a hell of a ride, as we have encounters with a wind god, a water god, and Rin's own nemesis—the Phoenix. The rules of how shamanism and magic work in this world are also given a deeper exploration. It is so rich and intricate, told in a prose so elegant and easy-to-follow.

I cannot wait for the final installment, even though the kids are definitely not okay coming out of this harrowing adventure.
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Wow. I loved this even more than The Poppy War, which is saying something.

I can't say too much about this book since it is a sequel, but this trilogy is one of the most bloodthirsty, vengeful series I've ever read, and it is awesome. I seriously cannot wait for the final installment!

Thanks so much to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for the eARC! This review will be posted on Goodreads and to Barnes and Noble's website.
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R.F. Kuang continues to amaze me with her writing abilities! The second installment of this trilogy starts off after the third Poppy War ends, and Rin is racked with guilt. She fights her opioid addiction, battling her internal demons as her lust for vengeance against the Empress Daji shapes her actions. The story spends much of its time inside Rin's head as she struggles to find control of her Phoenix power, just as potent a battleground as those outside it. Eventually, with the help of the Cike and the Dragon Warlord, Rin regains control of her power, and brings the fight to Daji. While I enjoyed the world-building more than some of the characters, and it seems that both sides of this conflict are excessively vicious, as the adage goes: "War is hell." For Rin, it certainly is no different. I can't wait to see where Kuang will take us next, but wherever it is I know it will be spectacular!
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This is a grim book; no surprise from anyone who has read the first in the series. But it is grim without ever reveling in it or losing sight of the humanity of its characters. Every character is a person and even where the story doesn't fully explore a character, it offers a hint of hidden depths. Rebecca Kuang has established herself as a leading voice in the fantasy genre and I very much look forward to Book 3 of the series.
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Just like last year with her eye-opening, debut novel The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang has crafted a brutal, god-touched, and war-torn narrative with its sequel, The Dragon Republic.

So as to not spoil the first book, here’s this for the summary: Rin is looking for purpose after the actions she took to end the Third Poppy War, and the Phoenix, the vengeful god in her head granting her incredible incendiary powers, seems determined to drive her insane. Fortunately, revenge is still on Rin’s mind, so she sets her sights on destroying Nikara’s traitorous Empress. On the run, addicted to opium, and with few allies, Rin has little choice but to join the Dragon Warlord as he attempts a coup on the Empire, but is his vision for a democratic republic sincere or a smokescreen for ulterior motives?

Rin is still one of the messiest, most raw protagonists I’ve seen in a long time, and I utterly love her. Even more, I love Kuang for being brave enough to craft a female main character who is terrible and emotional and understandable, who will do whatever it takes to protect her country, even if it means committing atrocities. Even if it means running from the guilt and trying to pin the blame on someone else.

Rin’s journey to accept her role in the events of The Poppy War features heavily here in The Dragon Republic, and I’m glad we see her trying so many things to cope with her actions. Opium. Inaction. Choosing to follow someone else’s orders. Being someone else’s weapon. Rin comes close to giving up her own agency if it means she cannot be blamed for the power she wields, and this is a struggle we see people wrestle with all the time.

We all like making excuses for ourselves. We all like making exceptions of ourselves. It can take someone a long time with a lot of lessons learned the hard way to begin to accept responsibility, not just for past actions but for actions they will commit in the future. We see this portion of that journey with Rin, which was completely necessary given how the last book ended, and it is a hard and painful one, as it should be. How can you still be human if you don’t truly regret your horrible actions towards other humans?Was their own lack of humanity justification enough? Or is the fact that you’re still attempting to reconcile your humanity with your own ruthlessness proof that you are tragically, terribly human no matter what? Is anyone ever really innocent? These questions and more face Rin but also us, and the social commentary does not stop there. Be prepared to delve into racial issues that might start to look uncomfortably familiar.

Luckily at the end of the day, Rin is still Rin, however. No matter how much she tries to surrender, she’s too angry to do so completely. She’s too opinionated and loves her freedom too much. There’s a reason the Phoenix chose her, and seeing her true nature at war with this “I just want to be used” mindset is entertaining, to say the least. Rin owns her power, and she’s learning to accept her own consequences, nobody else’s.

Needless to say, Rin continues to be one of my favorites, and it really hits home how young she actually is, barely an adult, really. That’s true for most of the characters, but the fact that it’s so easy to forget is a testament to how masterfully Kuang has written her narrative around war and how it utterly destroys anything approaching childhood and innocence. This series is not one that hints at war and then glosses over or sensitizes it when you finally get there. From war strategies to war crimes, Kuang has done her research, and this is one of the greatest strengths about her books thus far.

That, and her magic system. The emphasis around shamanism, gods, and hallucinogens provides the trippy, cosmic encounters I came to love in The Poppy War, and those moments continue to be amazingly described and developed further with The Dragon Republic. The Empress, especially, and Nezha both brought surprises that have turned my understanding (and Rin’s) about shamanism on its head, and I cannot wait to see where the answers might lead in the next book.

Speaking of Nezha, let’s talk about him briefly.

Oh, Nezha. I hate you, but I love you, but I hate you. I think Rin sympathizes. At the end of the day, however, I cannot wait to see where his character arc is going. It has already been so nuts.

Kitay, however, continues to be Best Boy and my absolute favorite. I already love war strategists almost on principle, but there is such a joy that comes with Kitay whenever he’s on the page. I love him to pieces, and the friendship between he and Rin is next-level but also chaotic? Anything with Rin is chaotic, let’s be honest, but again, that’s part of why I love her.

I was so happy to see Venka again, but I dearly wish she’d had much more page time. I think the next book is going to be her time to shine—or at least, it better be.

Of course, members of the Cike and Feylen also stole the spotlight at various times. I want to say more about them all, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Seeing visions and memories of Altan also had me feeling some type of way. Namely, I realized how truly destructive of a force he was on Rin and how tightly bound she truly felt towards him. Obsession’s a hell of a thing, huh?

Other than the characters, the war narrative, and the shamanism, what The Dragon Republic also has in spades is politics. Personally, I find politics to be as fascinating as they are frustrating, and since I felt those very things while reading, that means Kuang did them exactly right. It’s not just the Nikara versus the Mugenese anymore, either. More players become introduced to this chessboard, including the Hysperians and the Ketreyids, and honestly? I need them all to go on somewhere and leave Nikan and my girl Rin alone. But in the meantime… I’m going to enjoy this utter train wreck, too. I can’t help it. I love political games like this.

Despite all this love that I have for The Dragon Republic, I couldn’t give it a full five stars for a few reasons. The first is that I was bummed that Rin got nerfed so soon into reading. I felt like I had just gotten excited about Rin finding the control and freedom she needed, and then it all got derailed. Fortunately, what results from her being nerfed totally pays off in the span of the book, but I couldn’t help but deflate from it. This choice for her character arc also made the middle drag a bit. As I was reading about war strategies and then watching them being carried out, I had to realize that, without the Phoenix, there wasn’t much for Rin to do. This was crucial for her to realize, too, and make contingency plans, but it lessened the reading experience.

The other thing was that all the political betrayals were a bit too obvious. Maybe they were supposed to be. Maybe it was supposed to be transparent to show how much Rin wanted to be manipulated, how much she wanted to follow other’s orders and needed to believe in something, even if it’s so clearly false—but it just wasn’t as riveting as I’d hoped it would be to read. While there were some twists I very much enjoyed, none of them compared to The Poppy War’s ending, but admittedly, that was going to be a nearly impossible follow-up.

Once again, the ending here was just crazy enough that I have no idea where we’re going or how far Kuang (or Rin) will go, and that’s as exciting as it is terrifying. (And yes, I’m still very much hurting.) At the conclusion of this trilogy, who will the real enemy be? What cause will Rin come to truly commit to? What’s going to happen to those still alive? What’s the full truth about the Trifecta, shamanism, and the gods as a whole?

Best believe, I’m fully strapped in, ready to find out!
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Review copy provided by the publisher.

This is the sequel to The Poppy War, and in the shape of a classic second book of a trilogy, things get significantly worse here and do not get significantly better at the end.

Yes, from the state of things in The Poppy War. Yes, I remember how things were in that book. There is, it turns out, a lot darker to get.

And yet. And yet and yet and yet. Is this book a catalog of unremitting horrors. No. No, not unremitting. There is a lot of bleak here. There is a lot of darkness, a lot of betrayal, a lot of people fleeing from horrible situations in their world, in their politics, in their own hearts and minds, in their…theologies, I guess I would say, in a very concrete and immediate sense. This is a book that takes some of the worst situations in our own history and gives magical and divine weight to metaphors about them, and those are…not even necessarily the worst situations it describes. Some of the worst situations are very real ways humans have treated each other historically.

And yet.

Still not unremittingly bleak.

Still ways for humans to keep trying, to keep hoping, to keep reaching for a solution, for understanding, for some way for things to get better.

This is a second book.

Will book three be about the day the teddy bears have their picnic? I expect not, no. I expect there to be addiction and loss and turmoil, starvation and death and upheaval, fire and flood and betrayal. But I expect Rin to fight not just for the barest edges of survival but for something more in herself. I expect Rin to keep finding something more. And that’s why I keep reading these books. And why I think you might want to also.
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Wow, what a story! I was a little nervous going in (RIGHT after finishing book 1), as book 2 in a trilogy can often feel like a bit of a slog. Especially with the start of the war. But, this one has a lot happening and I definitely enjoyed the ride. We learn a bit more of the backstory and meet some new characters. The character development is great and I'm really enjoying this series. Excited to see what book 3 brings us!
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Kuang has easily become one of my favorite authors. The Dragon Republic picks up right after the Poppy War, and I loved every second of it. The raw emotion of the book is so refreshing and original. It feels like an authentic look at the ravages of war (despite the fantasy setting) and I really appreciate the author showing us the awful truth. Her characters are so dynamic and real - I can't get enough. This installment took us on wild ride, and I'm equal part nervous and excited for the final book!
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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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