R.F. Kuang is a literal GENIUS. I’m going to say it again and again until everyone reads her books. I finished reading The Dragon Republic somewhere last week and I felt numb the first half hour after. And then the realisation of what I had just read started seeping in. PAIN. I tell you, all I felt was pain. And of course also the urge to start reading the third and final book in this trilogy The Burning God. I’m actually really lucky to only have started this trilogy this year so I can read the whole trilogy in one go instead of having to wait!
Starting off with what I promised to do in my review for THE POPPY WAR, and talk about the Shamanism part of the trilogy. Rin discovers in The Poppy War that she has the ability to call upon one of the 64 gods in the Pantheon and, I hope I’m explaining this right, channel the power of her God. Her God, the Phoenix, is known for its desire for revenge and call fire. We can clearly see in the first book how Rin can’t always separate what she herself is thinking or what the Phoenix’s thoughts are. Also, fire isn’t easy to control and destroys everything on its path in mere seconds. These two elements make for a dangerous combination and we see how Rin struggles to come to terms with her new found powers and herself, even throughout in The Dragon Republic.
But what happened exactly in the Dragon Republic?
IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK, DON’T CONTINUE
BECAUSE THERE WILL BE HUGE SPOILERS IN THIS PART OF THE REVIEW!
IF YOU DID READ THE BOOK THEN PLEASE CONTINUE AND
LET’S HAVE A CHAT ABOUT THIS WONDERFUL BOOK!
The interesting thing in this book is how it starts with Rin having an addiction to opium; the drugs she despised at the beginning of The Poppy War, because she saw how it destroys everything around a person, that are now a tool to shut out her grief and guilt. Grief for what she has lost (Altan dies at the end of The Poppy War) and guilt for what she has done to the Federation of Mugen (burned the whole country to the ground). This mix and her struggle with her pain makes her an easy victim to the addictive opium.
“But eventually, you’ll have to ask yourself precisely what you’re fighting for. And you’ll have to find a reason to live past vengeance.” – R.F. Kuang
Furthermore Rin joins the Dragon Republic and believes she’s fighting to get a democratic Nikara. Instead all the other characters around her have their own hidden agendas and manipulate Rin very easily. Rin is very unreliable narrator. It’s something I didn’t think about enough in The Poppy War but started noticing more in this book. She’s blinded by her own vision of everything and doesn’t see anything beyond that. It’s something we see her doing in The Poppy War too, she doesn’t have her own drive and lets herself be used by others. In The Dragon Republic she lets herself be taken advantage of for others’ bigger plans which eventually leads to her being hurt, being backstabbed and being lied to constantly by everyone else in power.
“The anger was a shield. The anger helped her to keep from remembering what she’d done. Because as long as she was angry, then it was okay — she’d acted within reason. She was afraid that if she stopped being angry, she might crack apart.” – R.F. Kuang, The Dragon Republic
Rin’s character goes through a lot. It’s grim. It gets darker and her trauma gets spread out over the pages which can make it hard to read, especially in the first part of the book. Though this book didn’t bother me or rather didn’t punch me in the gut as much as The Poppy War did. It was rather a constant feeling of ‘Rin has to get out of there’. I might have seen it coming what was happening. I knew, they couldn’t trust Vaisra. I knew, they couldn’t trust the Hesperians, that was clear as day from the beginning. But I never saw the big plot twist at the ending coming. Especially not from that particular character.
“Fire and water looked so lovely together. It was a pity they destroyed each other by nature.” – R.F. Kuang, The Dragon Republic
It’s the pain and anger I was talking about in the beginning. It angered me so much, and I won’t ever look the same at that character because I trusted him as much as Rin did.
KITAYYYYYY. MY LIFE MY LOVE MY EVERYTHING. He can’t do anything wrong in my eyes. He’s so pure. Straightforward. And one of the more morally good characters as far as that’s possible in war. It’s exactly what hot-headed Rin needs. For clarity, I do not like Rin nor do I like Nezha. My two loves in this book are Kitay and Venka.
Something that slightly bothered me was the way Rin so heavily clung to the image she had of Altan. I never saw actual love in their relationship. I did see a connection on a different level such as finally having found a family. I feel like the found-family trope was definitely present in The Dragon Republic. Considering the way she connected more with the other Cike. Especially, when she had a hard time coping with her addiction and they all talked about it and didn’t want her to leave. But Altan is also part of her trauma, she constantly thinks she has to live up to what he accomplished, what he did and if she can’t do these things, she fails. She made a way bigger image of Altan in her mind than what he really was, someone who also made mistakes and struggled miserably in the end.
Rin loses her ability to call upon the fire at a point in the story and it was intriguing to see how she handled it. Suddenly, the Dragon Republic has lost its great weapon and Rin knows she’s becoming disposable in this situation. She struggles a lot and tries to find her place but degrades herself to foot soldier and this is again an example of how she’s easily manipulated.
“Rin was so tired of having to prove her humanity.” – R.F. Kuang, The Dragon Republic
Some of my first thoughts while reading about the Hesperians wanting to experiment on Rin: I think it’s really telling how Petra is talking about the “Maker” (her God) and how the Maker is trying to keep Chaos (greediness, jealousy, death,…) at bay while EXPERIMENTING on Rin against her will. It’s telling how Petra thinks it’s good what she’s doing while Rin is terrified and uncomfortable. Hate is a small word for what I felt when reading about the Gray Company. They scared me and I wasn’t even experiencing the horrors myself. I really liked the following quote in the book specifically, to show how dangerous their justification of using violence is:
“They believe in a singular and all-powerful deity, which means they cannot accept the truth of other gods. And when nations start to believe that other beliefs lead to damnation, violence becomes inevitable.” – R.F. Kuang, The Dragon Republic
Another plot line I did not at all expect but nonetheless adored, was the one where the Ketreyids showed up. I’m not even sure if I got to the gist of who they were exactly because everything was going fast (I might have read too fast at some points) but it suddenly got to a whole other sort of interesting when they showed up. The conquering and losing and fighting and conquering again was dragging a little, so this change was a welcome refreshment in the story!
Last but not least, the ending… I was shook. I was expecting it at some point but not the way it turned out. It still surprised me. And I think that’s where the roots of R.F Kuang’s fantastic writing abilities lie. It’s that however predictable certain situations get, I could still not see how it would turn out. You’re still left in the dark for most of the story.
I could go on and on about this book, this series is just that good! I’ve literally been craving this kind of story where I could think about it for hours after I’ve read a chapter. It’s exactly what I needed. I’m completely lost in this world Kuang created.
I’d also love hearing other people’s thoughts on this book so if you’ve read it and want to discuss, drop a comment down below or let’s connect on my bookstagram (Instagram) where we can talk more!