The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R. F. Kuang
Published by Harper Voyager
Adult, Grim Dark, Fantasy
Release Date : August 6th 2019
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.
“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 Republic is a sequel that didn’t do it’s predecessor justice making this book the first sequel I’ve read this year that didn’t live up to it’s reputation.
The Dragon Republic is the second book to the highly coveted adult fantasy series The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. The Poppy War is the first book of the series that impressed me last year with it’s rich East Asian inspired world building and the complex themes of war and the atrocities that comes with it complete with a communing based magic system that lets people hone the powers and become vessels for powerful beings of destruction. This month I picked up the sequel to buddy read with a friend. I went in completely blind without any prior expectations as it is a book that is well loved by most of my friends on booktweet. Thinking back on The Poppy War I read it during a time when I haven’t read that many books so I haven’t developed my taste just yet. As for the rating I have a lot thoughts on the book that I will try my best to convey as brutally honest and objective as possible in this review.
“It’s not about who you are, it’s about how they see you. And once you’re mud in this country, you’re always mud.”
In this sequel it takes place a few months since the end of events that happened in The Poppy War. Rin is now in position of leadership amongst the Cike and is currently plotting her revenge on the Empress, Su Daji, for their part in the war that costed the empire a lot of lives. The grief from losing the person she looks up to has spiraled Rin into the darkest depth of her psyche all the while the god she communed to is plaguing her thoughts with traumatic images that is slowly deteriorating her sanity. With no where to go and desperate to succeed her vengeance Rin is then offered an opportunity by a warlord who’s planning a revolution. The events that happened in The Dragon Republic parallels the Chinese Civil War that happened in 1945-1949. Read by Tiffany made a blog post that breaks down the historical and cultural context of the series but spoilers ahead if you’re going to check out the blog post. What I adore from R. F. Kuang is her ability to weave real life historical events in East Asian history, specifically Chinese history, into her world to show a broader audience and educate people on Asian history that isn’t commonly known in the west. There are heavy themes of colonialism, religion, racism, colorism, and classism discussed in this story. The depiction of these themes are seamlessly weaved into the world and through the characters adding a layer of complexity.
For the most part of the story the war is still on going as the empire isn’t completely free from the Federation and is struggling to recover from their invasion. Civil war erupts as a warlord decides to change the situation and seize the opportunity to do so. Because of this there are a lot of strategizing moments and full on war sequences, specifically nautical battles. R. F. Kuang did not hold back for these battles as they are executed nicely and shows a different kind of war on water. The action is vivid, gritty, and well written that impressed me while reading it. Kuang’s writing is more accessible in this sequel compared to The Poppy War as it didn’t take me long to settle back into the story. The pacing is immaculate as it struck a good balance of a fast paced story with good plot progression during the first half of the story. The second half of the story didn’t have the same stakes as the first half resulting in me losing interest. There are a few noteworthy moments but it only happened after a very slow build up and wrapped up instantly that in my opinion made the pay off of the reveal anti climactic.
“If nothing lasted and the world did not exist, all that meant was that reality was not fixed. The illusion she lived in was fluid and mutable, and could be easily altered by someone willing to rewrite the script of reality.”
Even though I liked the writing for the world building and the writing overall for The Dragon Republic, the characterization for me compared to The Poppy War isn’t as compelling as it’s predecessor. When I read The Poppy War the character development and growth left a bigger impression on me. Rin’s corruption arc and coming of age story was done wonderfully but coming into The Dragon Republic it became repetitive in my opinion. It became a big issue for me reading through this book to the point that it felt like I was running in circles trying to make sense of Rin’s psyche and thought process. I understand that Rin just went through a traumatizing event and is currently trying to cope with the decisions she made. The rage she has for the world and herself is inconsistent that it was hard for me to comprehend because it didn’t make sense for me as a reader. The big rage moments turned into tantrums and fits of hysteria that all blended together which lead to me skimming most of it no longer caring. There is no dimension and complexity in Rin’s characterization here that I didn’t see in the first book. It all felt exactly the same as before but the target of her rage is directed to a different person with an added weight of grief and instability in her being that kept being repeated over and over. It is clear from the first book that Rin isn’t stable and is an unreliable protagonist but there is no essence or a point in her character arc. It took half of the book for Rin to show a little bit of progress which isn’t compelling enough for me to care. Like I said before it felt like I was running in an endless circle.
“She didn’t care about anyone’s visions for the future. She’d stopped wanting to be great, to carve out her place in history, a long time ago. She’d since learned the cost.
And she didn’t know how to say that she was just so tired.”
The ‘running in circles’ then continues to bleed through the plot progression in the second half of the story which cost so many other characters that are also in the story to then be only used as plot tools to get things rolling. Reading The Dragon Republic all of the gripe I have for this book it all came down to characters. To be frank, I did not care for any of the characters because most of them felt like an after thought. The Cike’s presence overall isn’t as strong as before and their arc fell flat. They are a cast of characters with a lot of potential but in this story Rin didn’t give a damn about them at all which is sad. Even the antagonist that is hyped up to be the biggest enemy that threatens the peace their arc fell flat in execution.
Then there’s Kitay and Nezha. Kitay is a good character with amazing traits and is the only friend that actually cares about Rin since The Poppy War. Yet Kitay’s character arc in The Dragon Republic lost it’s spark and is ordinary compared to before. His character became uninteresting very fast for me. I understand the history between Kitay and Rin runs deep since Sinegard as he is the only character that sees Rin as true best friend and partner in crime but for me their relationship lacked depth just like all the relationships in this book. The foundation was solid in the first book when it came to The Dragon Republic there is barely any progress besides one event and Kitay being Rin’s care taker. There is a lack of dimension in their relationship that held me back from investing myself in their friendship.
Nezha is probably a character that I will never understand. The twist in his characterization wasn’t built on a strong foundation for it to make sense and carry a lot of meaning to the story. In The Dragon Republic Nezha becomes a figure that bridged the relationship between Vaisra, Nezha’s father, and Rin. We did get to see a little bit of back story from him that explains a small piece of Nezha in the prologue. Honestly, this small piece didn’t really add anything to his character development besides being an added bonus skill to his existence as a character. Nezha’s growth as character is sparse and scattered in this sequel. I can see that he is a character that is built to become Rin’s fated friend and enemy at the same time yet when it comes to execution it’s hard to wrap my mind around it. Rin and Nezha’s relationship is probably the most unconvincing relationship that I’ve ever read. The one moment shared between the two in The Poppy War is constantly brought up making it a foundation that defines them as a pair and their whole relationship. This moment also became a painful reminder for me on how these two lacked depth that I was actively seeking while reading.
“Fire and water looked so lovely together. It was a pity they destroyed each other by nature.”
Final thoughts, The Dragon Republic is a sequel that falls into the category of second book syndrome for me. By comparison this sequel didn’t do the first book justice in the matter of characterization and development overall. The potential and foundation of the characterization that has been built wonderfully in The Poppy War isn’t taken advantage of or is left untouched with progress besides a few anti climactic moments within the story. Story wise there’s development that are monumental to the growth of the world as a whole yet this growth isn’t fully realized as there is no amplification from the characters. Truly the first half of The Dragon Republic is entertaining with amazing plot progression and intense naval warfare. The second half isn’t as concise and well intentioned as the first half. Everything in the second half felt rushed and wrapped up too quickly for it to reach that emotional devastation that the moment entails instead it made me feel nothing. It saddens me that I could not completely get into this book and I’m sad that I have to say that this series isn’t for me at all. With a heavy heart I may not continue with The Burning God, the third book of this series. I still highly recommend this book for anyone that wants to get into an adult fantasy series with heavy themes war to pick this book up as it is a unique series with inspiration from real life historical events in East Asia that everyone should know.