Title: The Dragon Republic
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War #2
Rating: 3/5 stars
The Overview: 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 toopium, 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. -Goodreads
Overall The Dragon Republic was a good continuation even though it lacked a bit of the magic from the first book.
The Poppy War ended with such a bang, I kind of expected this second book to maintain that epic, large-scale momentum. Instead it kind of regressed and had more of a narrow focus on characters and their various relationships and connections. The larger conflict of the series did eventually make some good progress (in a way I really liked), but overall not a lot for the page count. I’ll admit I wasn’t in much of a hurry to pick this up after finishing the first one. The main draw of PW was the testing/schooling/training aspects and I was skeptical the author would be able to keep my interest without that huge selling point. As it turns out, I still quite enjoyed the book even though there were a few specific things that kept me from loving it.
I did not particularly like the main character’s growth arc (or lack thereof) in this novel. In the first book she was an understated badass who was willing to burn herself bloody to instigate change. Flaws aside, one thing that could always be said about her is that she knew what she wanted and fought with everything she had to get it. To have her suddenly become a pawn who just bends over at everyone else’s whims was really disappointing. I mean, this girl ::insert spoiler on what happened at the end of the first book:: clearly has the world at her fingertips but can’t stand up to a few petty rulers? It just didn’t make any sense. I know there were a few factors at play surrounding her mental health and PTSD, but it’s how easily she gave in and accepted pathetic threats and ultimatums as the only possible choices that bothered me. She was so passive! And I didn’t like how stagnant it made the story. This was not the same character. Plenty of things were happening TO her, but not a whole lot happened BECAUSE of her, and that distinction is why I rated the book sort of low.
I also got kind of tired of hearing her dwell on certain tragic events from the first book. It reminded me a bit of YA love stories where the MC’s whole world is a boy and nothing else really matters. I wouldn’t have minded it as much had it not lasted almost the entire book. Angsty. That’s the word I’m looking for. The book felt angsty.
One thing I really love about the series is the writing. Kuang is a brilliant writer who knows how convey the deep emotions of her characters in a way that makes me feel it in my gut. I can blather all day about criticisms of plot, but when it comes down to it I’ll not soon forget how this series has made me feel so far. It’s rather gut-wrenching. I also am fascinated with the overall idea for the story and can’t wait to see where she takes it in the final book. Although it has elements I’ve seen before, I’ve never read anything quite like it, and the originality is very refreshing. I’ve heard the final book is one of the better trilogy-enders out there, so I’ll definitely be reading on to see how she wraps everting up.
Recommendations: a breath of fresh air in the market, the series continued well in this second book. Not quite as strong as the first novel, it still had beautiful writing, lots of action, and a few memorable moments. I’d hand the series to fantasy fans who value originality and cultural diversity in books.
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