The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Rin is on the run…
Haunted by the atrocity she committed to save her people, addicted to opium, and driven by the murderous commands of Phoenix, the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.
Rin’s only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold her homeland, Nikan, to her 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. She throws herself into his war.
After all, making war is all she knows how to do…

If you’ve been keeping up with the world of fantasy books for the last year or so, you will likely have heard of R.F. Kuang’s excellent (and brutal) Poppy War. A debut that sucks you in with the promises of a magic school and drug-fueled hi-jinks, and then stomps all over your face with the horrendous reality of the Nanjing Massacre.

So yeah, however dark and brutal Poppy War might have been, it was a pretty great book. But given how it ended (if you know, you know), readers might have been forgiven for wondering what the hell Kuang was going to do next.

Well, for me, the answer was “blow the first book out of the water”.

I know that a criticism some readers had of The Poppy War was that the first and second halves of the book felt entirely different from each other, with drastically different tones. While I happen to think that this was a fitting parallel for Rin’s confrontation of the harsh realities of war, those readers will be happy to know that there is no such difference this time around. The Dragon Republic shares far more similarities with the second half of The Poppy War than it does the first, and that tone is consistent throughout.

But that’s not to say that Rin isn’t as snarky and rage-fueled as ever, because she absolutely is. And Kuang does an amazing job of making someone so powerful seem so emotionally vulnerable. Aspects of PTSD, loss, and drug addiction are explored in an honest, uncompromising way, and much of Rin’s character arc in this book ties in to how she deals with these.

Of course, this is Rin we’re talking about, and so she tends to deal with things by setting them on fire.

Whereas Poppy War was pretty much a straight-forward and straight-up war between two nations, Dragon Republic complicates things a bit. Politics come into play, both on the human level and the pantheon level. The politics and the fantastical are woven together so seamlessly that they seem to be one and the same (which I loved), and the possibility of a “soft” invasion by a gun-carrying white-supremacist European-like nation lends a extra layer of suspense to some scenes.

And, of course, it’s dark. So dark. There’s nothing so out-of-left-field shocking as the Nanjing parallels, but there are a lot of corpses (so many corpses) and one (interrupted) on-screen rape. These aren’t books you want to read if you aren’t a fan of dark stories, but in my opinion, neither do they glorify that darkness. The atrocities are described in a matter-of-fact way, and it’s the character’s reactions (or lack thereof) that take up the focus.

The pacing is pretty fast throughout, with a slight lull in the middle to allow the reader some time to digest some things. I find that Kuang has a very moreish style of writing that demands you never put the book down, and she is incredible at keeping the suspense high throughout the course of a book without it becoming overbearing.

So yeah. If you were a fan of the Poppy War (particularly the second part), and you can stomach a really dark story, then you’ll love this. There’s fire. There are battles. And there is so much rage.

So much rage.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.


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