The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
Published by Harper Voyager on August 6th, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
“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.”
ARC received via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.
I can’t even begin to describe the noise that came out of my mouth when I found out I had been approved for this ARC. I had just finished reading The Poppy War and I was so happy to know that I wouldn’t have to wait in agony for the second book in the trilogy!
The Dragon Republic follows up immediately after the devastating effects of the Third Poppy War. Shaman and warrior Rin is on the run. She’s haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, she’s addicted to opium, and she’s hiding from her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. The only thing keeping her alive is the thought of getting revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.
Rin decides to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord who has plans to conquer Nikan, overthrow the Empress, and create a new Republic. But as time goes on, Rin realizes that the Empress is more powerful than she lets on, and the Dragon Warlord’s intentions aren’t as democratic as they once were. The more Rin learns, the more she fears that she could be on the wrong side and is living her life by relying on the Phoenix’s deadly power. If all Rin knows how to do is fight wars, what else is she going to do but sacrifice for her country and vengeance?
The Dragon Republic is a carefully and cleverly crafted military fantasy. It doesn’t hold back in vividly showing the horrors of war. It’s full of darkness, tactics, shifting alliances, war, and death.
I would be very intimidated by the page count because it’s significantly longer than The Poppy War, but not once did it feel like I was reading almost a 700 page novel. There was never a dull or boring moment! Kuang’s engaging narrative and prose kept me captivated right up until that chilling ending.
I did like the last third of the book the most. It read like a action thriller movie and I felt like heart beating out of my chest because I was so nervous about what was going to happen next!
What Kuang does so effectively is show how war changes everyone in different ways. No one comes out unscathed mentally or physically. And you see that with Rin, but you also get a glimpse of how it shapes the side characters.
“But the gods corrupted them, just as they will corrupt you. The gods manifest your worst and cruelest instincts. You think you are in control, but your mind erodes by the second. To call the gods is to gamble with madness.”
Rin is one of my favourite heroines in a fantasy novel! I find her to be such a compelling character. Rin’s personality changes based on the events of the past and the present. I find Rin to be very well-written — she’s no Mary Sue that’s for sure! You know who she is, her personality traits, and that makes it easy to understand her actions… even if it’s frustrating most of the time. Rin is a heroine, but that doesn’t mean she does everything right. She’s impulsive and makes questionable decisions. She does everything out of anger and that leads her to make stupid snap decisions.
Kuang easily presents Rin at her worst as she’s overcoming an opium addiction and is learning to accept her power. But seeing Kuang strip Rin to her core made the fruition of her character development in the second half so much stronger.
But it isn’t just Rin who gets this treatment. You see the side characters evolve too. The secondary characters help to bring light and logic to balance out Rin’s life. I loved their interactions with Rin because you can see different relationships at work.
The continued world-building done in The Dragon Republic is commendable. Kuang shows the world beyond Nikara and the Mugenes federation. We learn about a new race, the Hesperian, who come into play with their new technology. It never felt like the book was bloated with information. I welcomed the more in-depth lore to the history of this world.
One thing that I particularly loved about this book were the magical battle scenes. They played out beautifully. The gripping naval warfare, the fantastic aerial combat, and the intense elemental battle were incredible.
Also, can we talk about that beautiful cover? When I finally understood the artwork from a particular scene, I gasped. It made perfect sense!
As with The Poppy War, I would take caution in reading this. There are several graphic scenes and one in particular that could be triggering for people. But in the end, it’s worth it because this book is a thrilling albeit gory adventure.
Note: I found it fascinating to learn about Kuang’s writing process for The Poppy War trilogy when I listened to her on the 88 Cups of Tea podcast. You can listen to that episode here.