The Dragon Republic, R. F. Kuang – Book Review

Hello Humans! Are you prepared for the review of one of my most anticipated reads of 2019? Are you ready for some EMOTIONAL FLAILING? Are you ready to read what amounts to one girl’s efforts to collect up the shattered fragments of her soul and smoosh them back together into something vaguely resembling the original?

No, you’re being overly dramatic.

Yes, I’m reviewing The Dragon Republic – the sequel to The Poppy War and I can’t promise this will be in any way helpful or coherent.

The Dragon Republic

Goodreads Summary:

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.

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Content warning: On page rape, addiction, also this is grimdark so if you’re bothered by that genre it is a good idea to avoid this- comment below if you have any specific content warnings you would like or message me on twitter (@judithcmoore). A polite reminder that this series is not and never has been YA!

Regular readers will be exceptionally proud of me (and probably a little surprised) when I tell you that this time I actually re-read the first book before jumping into the sequel.
I’m usually the kind of person who just reads sequels straight off and I do my best to remember what happened in the previous book. With this book though, I knew I was going to love it and I wanted to give it it’s due by reading it with the context of The Poppy War first.

I’m so glad I did, I expect I could have done my normal thing and it would have been fine but so much of this book is tied up in Rin processing and recovering from what happens to her towards the end of the first book and I think I’d have a lot less patience for her if it wasn’t clear how horrible that had been.

A lot of this book involves Rin being an addict and dealing with what is pretty clearly some form of PTSD – that’s to be expected if you read The Poppy War but I was surprised by how much of the book is taken up by that. While some might think it gets in the way of the action I personally felt it was a really important thing to do. So much takes place in this story it would be very easy for R. F. Kuang to just ignore the trauma these characters went through or to play it off and get on with the plot. The fact that she chooses to depict the recovery process (including the descent to rock bottom) was incredibly powerful and made me fall for Rin and the other characters even more than before. I’m not typically a Grimdark reader but something about how Kuang writes her characters utterly captivates me and I just want to read more.

This book managed to break my heart on more than one occasion. I don’t want to go into too much detail because it would veer into spoiler territory. But there’s something about the way that Kuang writes these painful moments and throws them at you as a reader from completely out of the left field. It reminds me of the feeling some GOT readers/viewers got when certain characters were being killed off left and right (that ‘don’t get attached to anyone, you don’t know how long they’ll stick around’ is real). So read this with caution – you may shed a tear or three.

Again, I don’t want to spoil things, but Kuang does a phenomenal job of depicting the grieving process. This book hit the nail on the head as far as my (albeit limited) experience of grief has been, that process of putting someone on a pedestal and then having to break down that perception was remarkable and is something that will stay with me for a long time.

This is one of the best fantasy books I have ever read. For me to say that about a book that can be described as Grimdark is phenomenal – I am a soft individual who doesn’t like violence. There were parts of the book where I felt the violence was just there for the sake of it, the inclusion of an on-page rape felt like it didn’t serve anything beyond upholding the ‘reputation’ of The Poppy War as having those violent moments. This somehow didn’t hit the same as those moments in the first book and instead felt unnecessary. I still loved the book enough that I didn’t want to drop a star rating but if I’m being nitpicky that was the one thing I would change.

Overall, I loved this book. How I’m supposed to get through this wait another time is baffling to me – I think I’ll have to just keep re-reading the first two books until publication day!

My rating: 5/5 stars

I received a free advanced copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Dragon Republic comes out August 8th!

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Will you be reading The Dragon Republic? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

J

 

 

 

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