The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang
Title: The Dragon Republic
Author: R. F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published Date: August 8th 2019
Length: 658 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Adult Fiction, Adult Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
The searing follow-up to 2018’s most celebrated fantasy debut – THE POPPY WAR.
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.
The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.
If The Poppy War was the first punch in the fight, The Dragon Republic was the next hundred punches that R. F. Kuang absolutely managed to land. Seeing as this is the second book in the trilogy, I don’t think I will talk much about what actually happens in the book but I will be speaking more about the characters, their choices and the fallout from that along with the themes presented in the book. That’s still not a safe topic, spoilers-wise but I have to review something about this book!
The Dragon Republic starts pretty much immediately after The Poppy War ends and if you thought that The Poppy War was a wild ride then you might have to hold on to your seats considering the absolute chaotic ride that is this book. In any case, a little recap sort of introduction to the trilogy. It’s an ownvoices Chinese (Song dynasty/Sino-Chinese wars/Opium wars) inspired grimdark fantasy series and this series will definitely make you feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and if there is, it’s probably some new enemy trying to kill you. Yeah. These are not happy books and I am sure you know that already.
This book actively focuses on so many things and it manages to land on its feet pretty much every freaking time and it’s absolutely breathtaking to experience, if I am being honest.
Ok, let’s talk about the things I absolutely loved about this book. The characters. Rin, Kitay, Nezha, etc. They each became much more real to me as I read this book. Rin, who in the previous book, had decided to follow Altan to his destructive end and then, tried to follow him (in her own way), now starts to realise that it isn’t feasible for her to do so. There’s so much she has to do before she can even think about Altan and all the complicated feelings he evokes in her. However, he’s very much present in this book, perhaps more than The Poppy War. He lives in Rin’s mind and regularly manages to fuck her up in her wildest thoughts and when she’s at the bottom of her despair. It is while she’s still suffering from the choices she made in the previous book and struggling to come to terms with the atrocities she’s committed that Yin Vaisra turns up in her life. She’s ‘saved’ from Su Daji’s forces by Yin Nezha under the orders of his father.
“People will seek to use you or destroy you. If you want to live, you must pick a side. So do not shirk from war, child. Do not flinch from suffering. When you hear screaming, run toward it.”
The Dragon Warlord, Yin Vaisra, is such a huge part of this book that it would be impossible to talk about this book without talking about him. He comes to Rin, as part of a rebellion that’s opposing Su Daji (the Empress) and with his cold logic, he manages to convince Rin to join the Dragon Republic. A future that would take Nikan ages ahead from where it is right now. He is charismatic in the most pragmatic sense, Rin can immediately (well, not quite immediately) see the appeal in his ideas even though she remains sceptical of the success of such rebellion. However, she’s also aware of how much power the Yin family has and how much it could help with toppling the Empress and her poisonous rule over her country. In her own way, Rin found Yin Vaisra to be the pillar of support she needed to lean on while she recuperated from everything that happened during the first book. Of course, her relationship with Nezha also changes because of this, where before they were on the verge of becoming friends, now they feel like they actually are friends.
“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.”
This is Rin’s fallacy, however, because nothing is as black and white as it seems. With Yin forces comes the Hesperians who are, to her, utterly foreign and judgmental. Hesperians, to her, seem to be under the impression that the Nikara people are barbarians and less than the Hesperians and Rin cannot help but feel like she’s trading one problem with two more. Despite all of this, she does agree to work under Yin Vaisra, simply because it helps her with living with herself. After all, at the end of the day, in a way, she’s following orders and being a soldier in a war. She doesn’t have to make decisions like she did when she was on Speer, she doesn’t have to wake up to her own atrocities, this time, it will be war and something that is completely unavoidable. This book is about choices and giving in, in a way. Rin is the one who makes the choice to follow Yin Vaisra and the consequences of that, she can’t help but face.
“We’ll get rid of them.” “Then we’ll create another war,” said Kitay. “That’s what militaries do.”
A lot happens in this book but I also want to talk about Rin and Kitay’s friendship. If it was good before, it becomes so much more. They don’t always agree with each other but one thing remains, they respect each other and love each other enough to not let go of each other. No matter how much they annoy each other. I think overall, this book explores Rin’s relationships with every character that was introduced and it is done so well. Her relationship with Chaghan in particular really intrigued me because it was always this acknowledgement of their complicated and possibly problematic feelings towards each other and Altan and it created an interesting reading experience. I love the fact that despite Rin’s power of destroying millions of people, there are still people around her that call her out on her less than ideal ways of dealing with her problems, that they still feel comfortable enough to tell her when she’s wrong. There are a couple of exceptions to that, a couple of characters cut their losses and we can’t really blame them for that, if I am being honest. The interpersonal relationships and the politics of the book, the plotting for the rebellion and how it actually turns out and each character fleshed out more and more makes this book a truly brilliant experience. It is not less painful than the first book but it’s painful in different ways. The ending will leave you desperate for the next book and luckily, it’s already out. I can’t imagine how the people who read the books as they came out waited for The Burning God.
“Rin was so tired of having to prove her humanity.”
The realities of war, of colourism, of racism, of colonialism are so starkly written to the point where it sometimes hurt to read about because unfortunately, even today, most of those things could be seen everywhere. Felt and faced by millions of people across the globe. The way religion played a huge part in the Hesperian people and every time, Rin had to face Petra and her absolute worship of the Maker, the way Petra dissected or at least, tried to dissect Rin was terrifying to read, more terrifying than the atrocities that were committed everywhere else in the Nikan empire. Because this is a visceral fear that any person of colour who’s country has been colonised would know.
In short, Rebecca Kuang has only become better with The Dragon Republic in bringing our attention to the many, many problems that war creates and the problems that war just highlights that were already present within the society. Her writing is sharp and raw, her characters gray and truly flawed yet deserving of our love and this series has broken me in ways I wasn’t ready for. Let’s just end it here. I am pretty sure I should just give up on actually reviewing the book because I am simply not able to put my thoughts to words in a way that would do this book any justice.
TW and CW: war, drug use, substance addiction, self-harm, racism, misogyny, genocide, bullying, abandonment, abuse, animal death, animal cruelty, torture, murder of children and adults, rape, mutilation, human experimentation, talk of rape, grief, PTSD, depression, abortion, gore, war crimes and the list goes on. Please, consider these warnings in mind before reading this book. Make sure you are in a right headspace.