Title: The Dragon Republic
Author: RF Kuang
Genre: Epic, historical Fantasy
Series? Yes, 2/3
All opinions are my own.*
Major spoilers for The Poppy War. Spoiler Free for The Dragon Republic.
The Dragon Republic is bigger and richer than its predecessor in every way: writing, plot, and characters. When we left off at the end of The Poppy War, Rin has defeated The Federation and Altan has died. Now she and the rest of the Cike face civil war. Daji is still at large leading the country but amidst that, diverging forces enlist her to start a civil war to overthrow Daji. But neither is as they seem and neither seems like the right choice.
RF Kuang explored the consequences of war in TPW but digs into the deeper recesses in this book. What happens after the war ends? Why does it feel like a loss even after they won the victory from Mugen? There are no parades, no victory celebrations, no praises and certainly no breaks in this book. Running away from her inner demons, Rin thrusts herself into civil war enlisting with Vaisra, the Dragon Warlord to overthrow Daji though his motives remain nebulous and suspicious. There are numerous descriptions of military, naval, and economic strategy. Much like the war of the first book, the plot preps and simmers slowly but violently at the beginning. Kuang moves her chess pieces slowly, almost dauntingly, until it boils over in the third act in an intense and twisting way. There’s definitely more maneuvering and strategy of large scale armies and navies in this second volume, resulting in less gory scenes than that Golyn Niis chapter but only marginally so. The action scenes are well thought out, there are no half drawn scenes of fighting, no fade to blacks. They were epic in scope and you can really picture what is happening in the whole battle scene even though you are focused only on Rin’s perspective. Whereas the reader was mostly confined to the school in the first book, we really get to see more detailed and beautiful worldbuilding here delving into Arlong and the Dragon province. But the development doesn’t stop at the material world, Kuang also develops the spiritual world more as Rin’s and the Cike’s powers are tested more. I have to admit that although I’m never really on board with fantasy books taking place too much in the spiritual world, this development of it in this world never ceased to engage me. That’s because through this, we learn more about the many issues Rin is suppressing but also the history of shaman use in this world.
This book most excels when it comes to Rin. I appreciated that while Rin is redeemable in her own right, Kuang never adds things in to Rin’s character to make her more palatable or more relatable, making her one of the most unique characters I’ve come across. Rin is dealing with a lot in this book and Kuang never lets Rin forget the things she had to do to win the war and Rin struggles to reconcile what she believed the best way to win the war with the thousands of innocent people she killed. But on top of that, Rin is being pulled every which way by different power figures vying for her special talents. She struggles to find her purpose in life because no one cares what she believes in taking only about her power can bring and what she is willing to sacrifice to exact revenge on Daji. Rin isn’t the only one that goes through the ringer however. We saw one maybe two sides to each secondary character, but here they are out of their element and each character is pushed to their limits. I especially enjoyed seeing wholesome Kitay, belligerent Venka, and a special someone (who I won’t name because spoiler) pushed to their limits. For example, Kitay who remains the diplomat and strategist struggles for his humanity and doing what is right for the army. I wish the members of the Cike were spotlighted more but they remain a welcome and funny constant to the unpredictable nature of the other characters. There are some truly sad moments in this book never vearing on sentimental but nevertheless bordering on it. The best moments of this book existed in interactions between Rin and her friends, often reminding me that while Rin is exacting revenge on Daji, I always remembered that the care and loyalty she has for her friends are unmatched. This book really goes to show how far these characters have come since they first stepped foot into Sinegard.
No less interesting are the new characters and other returning characters. Everyone has their own motives and their own values. No matter how late they were introduced, Kuang never failed to infuse a sense of history and complication to the character. I especially liked the exploration of Daji, Vaisra, and the other warlords of the different provinces. These characters enriched the background of the story and the book would not have been the same without their strong presence. I also appreciated that she expanded her range of female characters from the first book though sadly a majority of the major players were still male. Daji, Rin, and maybe Venka were the only major female players and even then Daji and Venka appeared at only roughly 10% of the book. I hope this continues to be rectified in the final installment.
The writing has lost some of its fast pacing and eyes-glued-to-the-page quality but it more than compensates for that with the author’s improvement in the nuance, depth, and detail of the story. Every sentence feels richer . While TPW was inspired by the works of Sun Tzu and unit 731, Kuang reached for a wider inspiration circle this time, she states she drew on the Opium Wars and the Chinese Civil Wars. There is so much more to unpack in this book and I’m looking forward to unpacking more when I inevitably reread it.
This book comes out August 6, 2019. I know that fans of TPW will love this book even more! It is one of the best fantasy sequels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A special thank you to Harper Voyager and HarperCollins for sending me an ARC to review. I was soooo excited when I opened the package and saw it was this gem of a book I was so eagerly anticipating.