Published: August 8, 2019
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Series: The Poppy War #2
Pages: 560 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
The searing follow-up to 2018’s most celebrated fantasy debut – THE POPPY WAR.
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.
The Dragon Republic was another one of my more highly anticipated sequels of the year and while it was a good story, it just didn’t rock my socks the way the first book did. The Poppy War kind of checked all my “boxes” – it had a school setting, a coming of age/growing into your own theme, plenty of action and magic, and dang, it went full on grimdark in the latter half. In short, I loved it. The Dragon Republic picks up not long after those events and Rin is really struggling with the death of Altan, her new role as leader of the Cike, and a crippling opium addiction. Oh yeah, she’s also an enemy of the state and the Empress would love to have her head on a pike.
Rin is honestly a bit of a deplorable character this time around. She has so many weaknesses, she won’t step up to the plate and truly lead the Cike, and they’re just sort of adrift with a vague suicide mission in mind. I do appreciate the fact that the author went a different direction than many others and gave Rin these weaknesses she has to deal with rather than being a total awesome-at-everything Mary Sue. Rin isn’t really a likable character either and she’s trying to drive wedges into every relationship she has and spends most of the book trying to find someone who will tell her what to do and take responsibility for the brunt of her actions. In this respect it’s pretty unique in the fantasy genre. Surprisingly, despite all this her friends are still there for her and are trying to drag her out of the mire of her own making.
The plot this time around was still good, though it didn’t capture me the way The Poppy War did. As I mentioned, so much of the story focuses on Rin getting her act together (a semblance of togetherness anyway) and finding a new person to tell her what to do. This leads her to the Dragon Warlord Vaisra who has designs on creating democracy (OR DOES HE??) but he’s forged a perilous alliance with the Hesperians to accomplish his goals. Things remain quite dark in this installment, as the provinces are now at war amongst themselves and against the Mughanese soldiers that still wander about. There are some really fantastic battle scenes with lots of main characters in peril! SO THRILLING.
Overall, like, I know deep down on an intellectual level this was a really good book – well written, a poignant examination of Rin’s inner turmoil and all that, but I still didn’t love it, hence my rating. I would recommend the audiobook version because the performance was excellent, though it did take me a little longer to get through the book than it would have if I had read the physical copy since I can only grab an hour here and there to listen.
*Apologies for any misspellings! I’ve been cobbling the names together from other reviews I’ve read since I listened to the audiobook.