You can read this review in portuguese here.
The Dragon Republic is the sequel to The Poppy War and the second book in this page turning trilogy.
I just finished reading this book as I type this words, the story is still fresh in my head, and I almost cannot express how I feel about this book. Luckily this book does not suffer from book-two-syndrome and I am SO glad for that. I picked this up the day after I finished The Poppy War, and the truth is that I was concerned, because how does one follow up to that? That book was a f-ing train wreck, a massive thunderstorm, a giant meteor crashing against land. Okay none of that makes much sense, but the point is, thankfully, The Dragon Republic is good. I will admit though that it is a very different from the previous book, I mean the sheer number of twists and turns from the first book and the fact that the book basically read like a 3 in 1 in terms of plot is a type of feat that I don’t think can be replicated. Be aware that this review will have spoilers from the first book so if you haven’t read that, go do that now!
The Dragon Republic picks off where the first book ended. The Nikara nation is in pieces after the war and so is Rin. Worse she is suffering from ptsd from all the horrors she saw and commited, plus she is feeling an incommensurable grief because of Altan’s death. She resorts to using opium to try and forget everything, to just try and stay alive amidst the pain. Then The Dragon Warlord, Yin Vaisra, comes to her with an offer. He wants to crush the Empire, kill the empress Su Daji and install a Republic. Driven by her rage and her desire for vengeance Rin will do whatever it takes to win. Even if that means joining in another war. Even if that means tearing herself apart, pushing herself to the utmost limits.
She didn’t care about anyone’s visions for the future. She’d stopped wanting to be great, to carve out her place in history, a long time ago. She’d since learned the cost. And she didn’t know how to say that she was just so tired. All she wanted was to get Altan’s revenge. She wanted to put a blade in Daji’s heart. And then she wanted to disappear.
This book is just wild. Whatever you think you’re expecting, R.F. Kuang takes you and throws you in a completely diferent direction. There is a lot of character growth in this, and it is a different kind from the first book. Here we have a broken Rin, a protagonist who went through hell and survived, she is dealing with all of that, plus her new addiction to opium and processing the death of her friend. To be honest Altan is not a character I like. I understand his importance, and do not condemn him, but he really get on my nerves. And I know he was important to Rin, but the depth of her grief and the depth of the roots that Altan has inside of her mind are much bigger than I ever thought. The author worked with this part of the story really well. The character’s trauma doesn’t go away miraculously, in fact it probably never will, because that’s how things are. People learn to live with what they went through, even the most horrific parts. This gives us a new side of this protagonist, a fragile and broken side yes, but it also humanizes a character that we only had seen being strong until then. It was fascinating to see the author’s construction to show us Rin taking baby steps toward her recovery, agreeing to fight yet another war, trusting the Dragon Warlord and putting herself available for yet another set of battles, caos and death.
This was not a world of men. It was world of gods, a time of great powers. It was the era of divinity walking in man, of wind and water and fire. And in warfare, she who held the power asymmetry was the inevitable victor. She, the Last Speerly, called the greatest power of all.
There was a part of the book, perhaps around 20-30%, that the book became a little bit still, because there was so much military things going on, this book was heavy on strategy and the author doesn’t spare us the detailed descriptions of battle plans, campaigns and all the warfare you can think off. But even that was not even close enough to turn this dull, I couldn’t put it down and it fact I read it faster than the first book even though this is over a hundred pages longer.
Rin’s relationships also become stronger in this book. I don’t want to spoil anything but it was really refreshing to see her trusting people and having people having her back for once. She already suffers so much, she deserves this. Also R.F. Kuang is really making me fear for the characters lives seriously, the woman is almost worse than George R.R. Martin and that is saying something.
There is a major shift in pace from the second half on and it’s so action packed you seriously cannot help but devour it. I don’t know how someone can put this book down. In fact even in the moments when I wasn’t reading it, my mind was with it, I was constantly thinkin about it, these characters, and what would happen next, call me obsessed maybe, but this book has taken up my whole life. Also I must mention that this is considerably less heavy than the first one, not only because it doesn’t have that much dark things in it (they are there but for me it was less than the first) but also the author creates more balance, more times to breath. The author gives us some precious moments of happiness for our characters, weather they are enjoying some bad wine, some philosophical conversation, or having a laugh about something ridiculous, we get these breaks that not only create a perfect balance to the pace of the novel, but also are so precious that my heart was happy reading them.
The thing you are not ready for though, is the ending. I could use a bunch of metaphors here, how I felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest, or how the breath was knocked out of me by a huge blast (the book attacked me) or whatever, but the point is that this ending was crushing, it was fast, it was lighting, and I was not prepared. I felt so shocked I just read it again and again. I cannot wait to see what comes next, I don’t know what to expect but I know that every bone in my body will be crushed by this author’s force and mastery in writing and story crafting.
If The Poppy War is a book about war, then The Dragon Republic is a book about the devastating consequences of war, how it lingers with the people who lived through it, the trauma that entangled itself in every aspect of their lives and how after the war there is no one left the same. No one is the same from the firt book, and especially Rin. R.F. Kuang was able to craft this so purely into her story, into her character’s lives and thoughts and views of the world that for not one second you forget, you are reminded alongside these chracters that the price of war is astounding, you watch as they pierce themselves back together, and the final image you get is a different one from before. The feat of The Dragon Republic is that it somehow is both a plot driven novel and a character driven one and I was left sincerely aghast at that. Normally it’s one or the other and I don’t even know if I ever read one that felt like it was both (if I did I can’t remember now). This book cannont be anything else but a five star and a favorite, and it also consolidated R.F. Kuang as a new favorite author.
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