Book Review : The Burning God

Book Review : The Burning GodThe Burning God (The Poppy War, #3) by R.F. Kuang
Published by Harper Voyager on November 17th 2020
Genres: Epic, Fantasy
Pages: 640
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The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead. 
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it? 

I’m not going to lie, The Burning God took me weeks to read—longer than any other novel this year. I had so much trouble making any progress through this novel, despite liking its predecessors, The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic. But I am so glad I made it through The Burning God, despite being bored by Rin’s usual poor decision-making and countless military battles because I freaking loved the ending, which made everything worthwhile.


“You didn’t liberate Tikany, you occupied a graveyard.”


I am not the type of person that finds military strategy interesting, so I think that was the main reason I was utterly bored by most of The Burning God. Much of the novel finds Rin leading her new, disadvantaged army to both unite and to free her country. I was pretty repulsed by the gory descriptions of these battles, especially with Rin’s use of her fiery Phoenix powers, but this violence was nothing if not brutally believable. On the other hand, I did not find Rin’s ability to lead an army, let alone taking over and leading a country at all credible and found it hard to root for her, especially when she seemed to get those she was “liberating” brutally murdered.


“I’m exactly what they deserve,” she said. “They don’t want peace, they want revenge. I’m it.”
“Revenge doesn’t make a stable nation.”
“Neither does cowardice,” she said. “That’s where you failed. You were only ever fighting to survive, Gurubai. I was fighting to win. And history doesn’t favor stability, it favors initiative.”


To me, it seems like the only thing Rin is good at is burning things down. And while sometimes, that is pretty satisfying, especially when she’s exacting revenge against those who have wronged her, it doesn’t make for good leadership. View Spoiler » If there’s one thing I can count on in this series, it’s that Rin is consistently a poor decision maker. Thank God that Rin has Kitay, her best friend and anchor for her Phoenix powers, to keep her mostly sane and rational.


The only battles I could really find any sliver of investment in were the ones Rin fought against the Hesperians and her old love interest, Nezha. Every time Nezha showed up to fight Rin, it was a breath of fresh air from all the military strategizing and gruesome steam rolling of an enemies. Rin and Nezha always have an emotionally charged and interesting fights. My favorite part is when the View Spoiler »

I was less thrilled with Rin’s fights with the Hesperians. I had expected an epic confrontation or battle, the likes of which lasted days or something, but that never really happens. Instead, they have a few squabbles throughout The Burning God that amount to mere nuisances for Rin, despite the Hesperian’s far, far superior technology. Despite this disappointment, I was really thrilled at the return to Shamanism when Rin took on students to help her win the war. I loved hearing about the other Gods of the Pantheon, the techniques for reaching their spiritual plane, and how Rin managed to teach her new students. It felt like a small return to the supernatural, which was what I liked the most about The Poppy War.


“I am the end and the beginning. The world is a painting and I hold the brush. I am a god.”


But more than anything, I loved the ending of The Burning God. I loved that Rin succeeded in her war, but still lost her own battle with not only what came after the fighting stopped, but also with her own sanity. I loved that she couldn’t get a grip on politics and what she left behind after all the fighting. I absolutely adored her descent into paranoia and suspicion, and that her appetite for violence reached a level that could destroy the world. It was so fitting for this grim trilogy and so well-written. I felt like every act of violence Rin took led up to this crucial breaking point in both her psyche and the aftermath she left in the wake of her constant, violent destruction. I know I probably should have been really upset by the exact situation it led to with the other main characters—Venka, Kitay, and Nezha—but I wasn’t. The conclusion, which wasn’t happy, just felt so right. I never thought The Burning God, or the trilogy, for that matter, should have a happy ending, and I’m so glad it didn’t.


“You thought you could fool me, but I know your soul. And if you’re not with me, you’ll burn, too.”


The Burning God goes out in a streak of fiery violence, as it should. It stays true to the theme of the trilogy, that absolute power corrupts absolutely and that heroes are not often what they appear to be. I was blown away by how well the Kuang crafted this satisfying, brilliant ending, complete with a wrenching epilogue, with the highlight on the costs of not only war, but sacrifice. The Burning God is a must-read conclusion to a unique and dark story. I am so glad that I stuck through all of Rin’s frustrating decisions, the constant, brutal darkness of the content, and boredom of all the military strategizing to reach this ultimate pinnacle of an ending that can only be described as Rin View Spoiler »


If I were rating The Burning God simply on the ending, I would have given it a much higher review rating. But because I struggled so much to get through the novel and even considered giving it up despite my investment in Rin and the series, I can’t in good conscience give it a higher star count. I am completely satisfied with this ending, which didn’t just stay true to the themes and development of its characters, but also managed to tie up all of the loose ends, and feel like I will remember it for years to come. I will definitely read any future works by the author in the future.

Book Review : The Burning God - Blogging with Dragons

Posted December 14, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

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