Book Review : The Dragon Republic

Book Review : The Dragon RepublicThe Dragon Republic (The Poppy War, #2) by R.F. Kuang
on August 6th 2019
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 663
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Rin’s story continues in this acclaimed sequel to The Poppy War—an epic fantasy combining the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters.
The war is over.

The war has just begun.

Three times throughout its history, Nikan has fought for its survival in the bloody Poppy Wars. Though the third battle has just ended, shaman and warrior Rin cannot forget the atrocity she committed to save her people. Now she is on the run from her guilt, the opium addiction that holds her like a vice, and the murderous commands of the fiery Phoenix—the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.
Though she does not want to live, she refuses to die until she avenges the traitorous Empress who betrayed Rin’s homeland to its enemies. Her only hope is to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who plots to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new republic.
But neither the Empress nor the Dragon Warlord are what they seem. The more Rin witnesses, the more she fears her love for Nikan will force her to use the Phoenix’s deadly power once more.
Because there is nothing Rin won’t sacrifice to save her country . . . and exact her vengeance.

I enjoyed The Poppy War so much that I immediately started reading The Dragon Republic as soon as I finished the first novel in the trilogy. Though The Dragon Republic was a worthy follow-up, I found that it just didn’t resonate with me the way the first novel did. While all of the characters are developed and flawed, I found that I couldn’t care much for any of them, and outright grew to despise others. It suddenly made sense that the blurb adorning the cover said, “Brace yourself.” I was also disappointed that much of The Dragon Republic was focused on military strategy and might and not the supernatural aspects of the pantheon of gods, which is what I enjoyed the most about its predecessor.


“You are a scared little girl reacting from anger and loss in the most shortsighted way possible. All you want is to get your revenge. But you could be so much more. Do so much more. Listen to me. You could change history.”


I was unbelievably frustrated with Rin in The Dragon Republic. Gone was the determined young girl, who literally burned herself to stay awake to study for the entry exam into the most prestigious military academy in the country, Sinegard. In her place was an aimless, haunted Opium addict who isn’t even a shadow of the promising young student she was at Sinegard. Though all of her characterization is believable, I felt like there was nothing she could do right. She couldn’t honor Atlan’s wishes View Spoiler » I wanted her to get a grip. What’s more was that Rin couldn’t seem to move forward of her own volition either. It was like watching a never ending train wreck.


“But then she saw what this was all about now. This wasn’t about Vaisra. This wasn’t about the Republic at all. This was about Altan. All these months later, after everything they’d been through, everything was still about Altan.”


At first, I was relieved when Rin joined The Dragon Republic in the hopes of overthrowing the Empress and forming a new democracy for her war stricken country. I hoped having a goal would help Rin to transform her life and to bring even a sliver of light back to it. But instead she blindly followed orders, becoming a praise junky to the leader of the coup, the Dragon Warlord Vaisra, Nezha’s father. View Spoiler » Couldn’t Rin do even one single thing right? 


“If she wasn’t making the decisions, then nothing could be her fault. She couldn’t put the Cike in danger if she didn’t tell them what to do. And she couldn’t be blamed for anyone she killed if she was acting on orders.”


I found that even smack dab in the middle of a coup fought for the soul of Rin’s country, that I still longed for the narrative of The Poppy War’s student life and exploration of the powers of the pantheon of gods. The saving grace for me in The Dragon Republic was that nothing is what it seemed. Readers find out that Rin and the Empire’s bitter enemies, the Mugense, aren’t the biggest threat to the Nikara people after all. And that there’s a lot more to the Empress’s motivations and past than meets the eye. I was extremely interested in everything involving the sinister and more advanced “allies” called the Hesperians, who view the Nikara people as lesser beings and savages. I’m very excited to see what the inevitable confrontation will bring in the next novel.


“That’s not your call. She could die out there.”

“Occupational hazard,” Venka shot back.

“We’re soldiers.”

“You are not a soldier.”

“Why not? Because of Golyn Niis?” Venka barked out a laugh. “You think once you’re raped you can’t be a soldier?”

Nezha shifted uncomfortably. “That’s not what I said.”


Though I couldn’t stand Rin for much of the novel, I did enjoy some of the other characters. I particularly enjoyed Venka, who survived the rape of Golys Niis, and she quickly became the stand-out for me. Her anger at the world and society was so palpable and believable that I could feel it from the very page. Author R.F. Kuang does an amazing job of demonstrating how trauma affects every part of a survivor’s life. Venka’s sarcasm, determination, as well as her mutual respect and comradery with Rin was a breath of fresh air in the often depressing story. Unfortunately, I couldn’t care for many of the other characters. I didn’t care when familiar characters died, because I was relieved that I didn’t have to deal with their problems anymore.


“I don’t want him to be gone,” she whispered.

“Our dead don’t leave us,” said the Sorqan Sira. “They’ll haunt you as long as you let them. That boy is a disease on your mind. Forget him.”


As I predicted in my review of The Poppy War, View Spoiler » I was really pleased because he was one of my favorite characters in the first novel. I was even happier to find out he had special abilities of his own, View Spoiler » I loved all of his interactions with Rin, most especially when he called her out on hard truths about Atlan. I was so glad someone was around to finally manage to knock some truth into Rin. Despite loving their friendship, I was continually frustrated by the constant hints and teases that there were romantic feelings between Nezha and Rin only to be horrified View Spoiler » I don’t think happiness is something that Rin or the readers will ever have in this trilogy. And while that’s okay, and realistic for a time of war, it’s pretty discouraging to read.


Overall, I found The Dragon Republic to be a frustrating read. Very few characters, especially Rin, were tolerable to me. What’s worse is that these characters are constantly angry, drug addicts, or fighting for the wrong thing, only to change their minds later on. Despite my irritation at the characters and their decisions, I simultaneously recognize that author Kuang is deeply skilled at writing believable characters who have survived gruesome circumstances and have been haunted by them. And somehow, even though I can barely stand most of her characters and their depressing world, I’m still invested in what happens to them! I think if, unlike me, you love grim dark fantasy, or characters that are unbelievably flawed and human, you will love The Dragon Republic. Despite struggling with the darkness of the characters and their struggles, I am still looking forward to seeing what happens in the last entry in the trilogy, The Burning God.

Book Review : The Dragon Republic - Blogging with Dragons

Posted December 7, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction


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