Thank you to Harper Voyager Publishers for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Genre(s): Fantasy, Dark Fantasy
Series: The Poppy War
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release date: August 6th, 2019
/r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Twins, Published 2019, #OwnVoices
“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.”
R. F. Kuang returns to the world of The Poppy War with this stunning sequel, The Dragon Republic. Everything I enjoyed about The Poppy War is not only present once again in The Dragon Republic, but amplified. Rather than falling victim to “middle book syndrome,” Kuang knocks it out of the park by taking Rin & Co. in an entirely new direction. Instead of continuing to fight the same old battles against the same old enemies, Rin becomes a soldier in a new fight: the battle to fill the power vacuum she created at the conclusion of The Poppy War.
For those who have yet to read The Poppy War, I highly recommend checking out my earlier review. Beware, O Ye Who Enter Here: there WILL be spoilers for the first book (and first book only).
There’s a time skip of several months at the start of The Dragon Republic, which helps to throw us right into the beginning of the new story arc. Where The Poppy War was a novel in two parts, starting with a military academy before throwing it out in favor of full-on grimdark military fantasy, the sequel has a much steadier pace throughout the book. I found this to be a great deal more enjoyable, as it felt more natural and less jarring. Rin and the Cike have fallen in with the pirate queen, Moag, before quickly being sold out to the Dragon Warlord: Yin Vaisra. Fortunately, Vaisra isn’t after their deaths, but rather after the firepower the Cike will bring to his campaign. Vaisra, you see, intends not to set himself upon a throne… but to create a democratic legacy rather than a dynasty. He intends to create a republic.
“Fear used to be a unifying force. Now the cracks in the foundation grow day by day. Do you know how many local insurrections have erupted in the past month? Daji is doing everything she can to keep the Empire united, but the institution is a sinking ship that’s rotted at the core. It may drift for a while, but eventually it will be dashed to pieces against the rocks.”
“And you think you can destroy it and building a new one.”
Rin, at this point, is thoroughly dependent on opium both to function and to contend with what she has done with the help of the phoenix. She is a shell of a person, not fit for command. However, a large portion of this book deals with her coming to accept not only who she is, but also who Altan was… both as a human being, and to her specifically. His memory is used against her repeatedly as a weapon, beating her down and crushing her spirit, and it is only by accepting herself and how she feels about him that she’ll be able to move forward. It’s a painful and heartbreaking process, but it’s a poison that’s eating her from the inside out and which must be purged before she can be whole once more.
“She’d known for months she was killing herself and that she didn’t have the control to stop, that the only person who might have stopped her was dead.
She needed someone who was capable of controlling her like no one since Altan could. She hated to admit it, but she knew that in Vaisra she might have found a savior.”
Kitay, of course, also returns in this novel. He’s grown, hardened by the massacre at Golyn Niis, but to Rin… he’s still the same old Kitay. He’s been hurt, and badly, but it’s forged him into steel. While Rin may still think of him as innocent and pure, Kitay will be tested and will not sit quietly when Rin tries to shelter him. I was thrilled to watch Kitay grow and develop, even as my soul ached to see him so.
The battles and war in the book are excellent, especially towards the conclusion as the shamans become more involved. In the start, I was impressed by the clever use of river warfare, including mines and delayed-release poisons. By the end, I was stunned by the vivid imagery of shamans fighting and using the powers of their gods against one another. For Rin & Co., this means fighting not only against new faces, but also against old friends – friends who they knew from their academy days.
“I suppose it’s not easy going to war against friends. . .”
“Yes, it is,” Kitay said. “They have a choice. Niang made her choice. She just happened to be dead fucking wrong.”
Kuang’s prose has also improved by leaps and bounds. Where I found The Poppy War to be slightly lacking in this regard, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the prose in The Dragon Republic. I found myself highlighting much more liberally, showcasing paragraphs and sentences I particular liked. Many paragraphs are poetic, with thoughts and ideas that will stick with you. Kuang’s cussing is also thoroughly on point, often with a dash of humor mixed in to alleviate the dark subject matter of the novels. Masterful use of the word “fuck,” if I do say so myself.
All in all, this was a fantastic sequel that promises an explosive conclusion in the third installment. I’m already looking forward to what Kuang will bring us next!
Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?
Drop me a line in the comments below!