This is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write. Not because I didn’t like the book, but because I absolutely fricking loved it and my excitement and emotions are overflowing like a sticky toffee pudding. I thought the first book, The Poppy War was amazing, but this sequel absolutely blew it out of the water.
The Dragon Republic takes place after the events of the first novel. The novel’s main protagonist along with the other Cike members are on the run. The events of the first book are still at the back of her mind and are not going to go away so easily. Her opium addiction has gotten worse and the god within her, The Phoenix is itching for total domination over her mind, but she must do all she can to achieve her goal – kill the Empress of Nikan and get her revenge for all she’s lost.
To do so, Rin does the unexpected and joins forces with the Dragon Warlord led by Yin Vaisra. Vaisra wishes to oust the Empress Daji and build a Republic that would incorporate actual elections and democracy, basically meaning that control would not be held by just one person. Thus, as consistency goes, Rin is again thrown into another war, but like in the previous book, nothing is what it seems on the surface.
Rebecca Kuang has once again written an absolute liver-puncher of a book and you bet your ass I am winded and speechless. I thought waiting for the Dragon Republic was hard after reading the Poppy War, but after reading this, I don’t know how I’m going to cope till the third book comes out.
The Dragon Republic proves to me once again how fantastic Rebecca Kuang is at storytelling. The combination of real history being layered and mixed with fantasy and mythology has been executed with precision once more and I have nothing but admiration for Rebecca Kuang. The series also hasn’t held back on the brutality of war, because war is something that is dark and extremly violent. There are a lot of dark moments that left me feeling hollow and lost inside. But this is what I love about Rebecca Kuang, as she’s writing about the true nature of what happens in war and doesn’t glamorise it like many have in the past. In saying that though, it’s not all grim, as humour is added in the right moments. It basically gives you a moment to breathe and allows for some great dialogue between the other characters.
The characters for me are what propels the story to reach great heights. The story is filled with a wide range of characters who have their own specific purpose in the world. There is also a whole lot of character development in this novel with many characters from the first book going through drastic changes. Even after his death in the first novel, the character of Altan still has a hold of Rin. She is riddled with both the grief of loving and losing him, but also the fear of “I’ll never be able to reach the heights he reached”. Rin must therefore expel Altan and all of these negative thoughts from her mind if she wishes to ever move forward in life. Thus, this is to a certain extent Rin’s own personal journey of self discovery and finding her place in this brutal world. The character of Kitay also goes through drastic changes in this book. He becomes as hard as leather due to the loss of his father, loved ones and everything happening around him. You can tell how distraught he has become as a result of all of this. I didn’t really have a strong connection with Kitay in the first book but after what he went through and the growth of his friendship with Rin made me warm to him and actually worry about him. I wanted to put him and Rin in some sort of protective cocoon so they wouldn’t lose each other! I also really loved the addition of the Pirate Queen Moag, ruler and boss lady of Ankiliuun. She had a lot of memorable moments when she popped up.
In terms of world building, we see that a continuation of war has left the nation of Nikan and the situation is pretty grim after years of endless wars and the events of the first book. War has become engraved into many of the people as well as Rin. This isn’t surprising as war is the only thing Rin has experienced since the first book, and there’s a sad part where Rin is asking herself what exactly she will do if the current war ends. All she knows is being a soldier and fighting these horrible and brutal wars.
Speaking of war, holy shit are there so many brutal things that happen in this novel! Rebecca Kuang really knows how to bring thunder to her action scenes. I will also never look at dumplings the same ever again…. I absolutely loved the end battle, I pictured the battle scene in the LOTR movie in my mind but way more brutal. There was panic, nervousness and a twist I expected but never expected (I know it makes no sense!!). Rebecca Kuang also brings some freshness to the story by expanding the world further than the previous installment. This time around we meet the Hinterlands (they don’t like being called that) and the Hesperians who to me gave off the vibe of The British Empire during their murderous reign and when they were colonising everything that lived and breathed.
Overall, I don’t know if my review does this book justice. I personally don’t think so. But what I can say is that Rebecca Kuang is one of the most exceptional and talented writers of today. The way she has depicted the true nature of war felt so real and really shows how brutal it is for the world and the people within it. The author thrived at bringing a tsunami of emotions for me and making me not want to put this book down. So yeah I’d definitely recommend the series, and I feel so honoured to have met her this month at the Waterstones event in Glasgow. So excited for the third book after that ending!