Publisher: Harper Voyager
Page Count: 560 Pages
Release Date: August 8th, 2019
Series: THE POPPY WAR, Book 2
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It
Note: I was provided a free ARC of the book by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
WARNING: Light spoilers for THE POPPY WAR ahead. Haven’t read it? You can find my review here!
The Poppy War is over. Rin made sure of that when she used the full power of the Phoenix goddess to destroy the home island of the Mugenese Federation, killing their emperor and throwing their army into disarray. But the end of the war didn’t bring a happy ending. Betrayed by the Vipress, the shamanic Empress of Nikara, Rin and her fellow Cike members are on the run. But a glimmer of hope appears on the horizon. The Dragon Warlord plans to unite the southern territories and overthrow the Empress, and he wants Rin and her compatriots to help him do it. Plagued by guilt, trauma, and a burning desire for revenge, Rin agrees, content finally have an outlet for her anger and grief. But with the arrival of allies from a foreign land, Rin realizes that the path to revenge might not be cut and dry. She’s always been a soldier, but can she always trust those who are giving the commands?
THE DRAGON REPUBLIC is an engrossing tale of power and responsibility, focused on very flawed people who nonetheless have your undivided attention. Kuang has created characters that you can utterly empathize with as they struggle to survive in a brutal world. Rin is once again the heart of the story, and she’s faltering under the immensity of being a power player on the world stage. Where in THE POPPY WAR, Rin was concerned with clawing her way into a prestigious school and proving she belonged there, Rin now has to prove that she belongs at the table with the generals deciding the fate of her country. Except, Rin isn’t sure she wants to be there. The guilt of destroying an entire island nation weighs heavily, and she’d rather avoid responsibility for her actions by letting someone else point her in a direction. Rin’s arc is one of learning whether or not she has it in her to be a true leader, to accept consequences and decide if she should act on behalf of herself or others.
Even when she’s trying to just go with the flow, Kuang threads the needle of never making Rin seem like a passive character. This book is full of momentum, stakes and deadlines, the tension of not knowing where the enemy will strike next or if you even stand a chance against them. Rin is constantly lashing out, not just physically, but verbally. Never one to say silent, she is constantly challenging her leaders, demanding answers. Sure, she can be petty and whiny at times, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong in the questions she’s asking. Rin gets particularly fractious with the son of the Dragon Lord, a young man she doesn’t think is stepping up to the plate when he has the chance; he, in turn, doesn’t think she is willing to make the sacrifices that war demands.
But perhaps most compelling moment is when Rin finally encounters the Vipress. When villains make the argument to the hero that “we’re the same, you and me,” it often comes across as a clichéd piece of dialogue you can easily dismiss. But in this instance, the author has done such a fantastic job of writing flawed, three-dimensional characters, I actually paused and considered the argument. Rin isn’t perfect, she’s incredibly human, and what might be justifiable to her is incredibly callous to another.
Al of this drama is playing against a backdrop of impending colonization. In this book, we meet the Hesperians, a white-coded nation showing up to see if the Asian-inspired Nikara can be “civilized.” They offer tantalizing aid to the fledgling Dragon Republic, but demand they prove themselves worthy of that aid first. It makes for rash decision making and boxes characters into corners and explores the kind of leaders who would be tempted by such offers in the first place. There have been more works of fiction lately examining the act of colonization from the perspective of those being colonized, and it’s an important look at how degrading it is to rely on help from those who don’t even view you as human.
But lest you think THE DRAGON REPUBLIC waxes too philosophical, never fear, there’s plenty of war and action to be had in these pages. The days of school are done, and now it’s time for naval battles and warring shamans. From the opening pages, when Rin leads her fellow shamanic Cike compatriots on a strike mission, Kuang keeps the action coming, while never losing sight of the horror of war and the thousands that die while leaders squabble. All of this is to put Rin through the grinder once again, so that by the end, she knows unequivocally where she belongs and what comes next. And that decision should make her enemies tremble.