The Burning God by R. F. Kuang
Title: The Burning God
Author: R. F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published Date: November 26th 2020
Length: 640 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Adult Fiction, Adult Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
“Oh, but history moved in such vicious circles.”
Ah, this is the conclusion to this trilogy and what a journey it took me on. I will say that I don’t generally go looking for grimdark fantasy but somehow I couldn’t ignore The Poppy War and then, once I actually started reading, there was no coming back from that. It dealt with so many things and it had so many layers, each chapter and each action by the characters felt like a nature course of things but they were clearly planned in such a way where the flow felt perfect. Of course, a certain character would react in such a way or that they would think a certain response to a problem to the obvious solution. It’s been a great journey and while I can’t say I loved every moment of it, I can certainly say that this particular journey will be unforgettable.
Now, let’s get into the book. If I thought that The Dragon Republic was moving fast without letting me breathe, this book definitely felt faster. So much happened and while I was sometimes left gasping, it still felt that this was the pace that felt perfect for the book. Seeing as this is the conclusion to a series, some spoilers are going to leak out so if you haven’t read the first two books, kindly read them and maybe then come back. It’s entirely possible that you might just jump into the last book because you can’t wait to read it. It’s understandable. I can let that go.
Considering everything that happened in The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic, I think, it’s safe to say that this is the first time in Rin’s life where she actually feels like she’s doing something positive with her powers and with her shamanism. The first book, she simply survived and came out on top through many problematic choices, in the second book, she was kinda on the winning side and thought that maybe she would not have to think about her actions however in the third book, we can finally see Rin and Kitay accepting their deeds and accepting the fact that Rin is a southerner and she might want to wipe out that part of her life but it’s never gonna go away. That’s how she starts to accept herself and starts to liberate a huge part of the country. It’s a great growth to see. That is not to say that Rin has become this perfect creature, oh, no. We can never even pretend that because R. F. Kuang makes sure we know Rin will never be the regular good old heroine with perfect choices or the perfect endings.
With Rin and Kitay’s choices come more information about the Trifecta and that was a whole different kind of mess that nobody wanted to touch. I will say that if there was one thing I was disappointed with, it was this, I needed more information about the Trifecta. More of their history and just them as a people. It felt a bit too abrupt and this might be me being greedy though so that can be put aside. I loved getting to understand more and more about shamanism and the powers it gave to the shamans. I loved the different powers and how each one came with a terrible price, the unholy balance of minds depended on the shamans. I mean, we already kinda knew that but it felt more expanded upon in this one because wow, the Trifecta were messed up.
And as if that wasn’t messed up, there was Rin and Nezha. The perfect disaster couple. Gods. They were so perfectly written and every time, they had any kind of interaction, I wanted to hit them and smush them. It always felt like a hopeless case, with them, like, they might have had a future once but now, at this point in their life, it was impossible to even think about what could have been. Their fights, their emotions, their lives just getting more and more entangled with their gods and each other. Ugh.
“It doesn’t go away. It never will. But when it hurts, lean into it. It’s so much harder to stay alive. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to live. It means you’re brave.”
As far as themes and concepts of the book go, The Burning God once again does not let us shy away from the brutal realities of war and gods playing with the mortals’ lives. The vicious cycles of human actions, the trauma and its inevitable impact on the people. From sexual, emotional and physical abuse, there’s no escaping because R. F. Kuang does not let you. It is also absolutely creepy how racism and colourism plays such a huge part in the different cultures of this world too. The petty politics, the backstabbing, you name it, this book has it. This book shows people who are willing to do anything to survive, sometimes even make the worst decisions because they were blinded by their trauma or their greed.
“You don’t fix hurts by pretending they never happened. You treat them like infected wounds. You dig deep with a burning knife and gouge out the rotten flesh and then, maybe, you have a chance to heal.”
This book also talks about acceptance however, it’s not all bleak. In this book, Rin finally accepts that people will always find something to pick on, to find flaws and that it’s not upto Rin to correct them. It’s up to her to accept herself. Yes, she’s darker than others and poorer and perhaps far more damaged than she was okay with accepting but in the end, she accepted it. It took her a while, a long journey but she accepted it. Despite the betrayals and abuses and traumas that she suffered through, she does finally understand herself and that’s why perhaps the book ends the way it does.
I think, as far as I am concerned, the biggest freak out I had was when Rin gets to see how the Hesperians take over a city in Nikan. How easily the people of Nikan were okay with letting the Hesperians rule them if given even a barest of comforts. It is so easily done, the way Hesperians are ‘liberating’ the Nikara people but always making sure that the natives know that they could never really hope to become equals. How even Kitay wonders if it’s not so bad. How it all itched at me to read it. That part truly disturbed me because it’s just so similar to what actually happened whenever and wherever the white people decided to colonise any country. I think, for me, at least, the biggest and vilest villains will still be the Hesperians even after the book ends.
As far as the ending of the book is concerned, when I read it, I wasn’t sold on it because I kinda thought that the author might go that way, with the way things were escalating, there really weren’t a lot of options for different endings. As some time passed, I think, I became more convinced that this is the best ending this series could have had. Perhaps the only ending we could be given. I am sure a lot of people would be unhappy with the way this series ends but for me, there couldn’t have been any other ending. It was never gonna end with a tidy conclusion, there were always gonna be ripples that we could/would never be able to see and that’s how I like it. It makes it more realistic and acceptable to me.
“She was a goddess. She was a monster. She‘d nearly destroyed this country. And then she‘d given it one last, gasping chance to live.”
Overall, this book and this trilogy, was absolutely phenomenal and I daren’t put any more words in this review. From the humble beginnings from Rooster province to where the series ends, I have been an engaged reader, I have gasped, I have cried (sobbed, really) and I have wanted to hit so many characters but I was never bored. I was never uninterested. One thing for sure, the pace of this trilogy is truly fast, sometimes, you need a breather because your mind and heart simply can’t keep up with how many emotions it’s bringing out in you. The ending is heartbreaking but considering what happens throughout the series, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Read this series because you won’t regret it. Read it because it is an important read and at times, an educational one simply because you can’t help but try to find more about the actual historical bases this book is inspired from.
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.