Publisher: Harper Voyager
Page Count: 654
Release Date: November 17th, 2020
Series: THE POPPY WAR, Book 3
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It!
Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.
After suffering betrayal after betrayal, Rin has had enough of listening to other people, of trying to work with other nations that just want to exploit her country. With no one left to turn to but the southern provinces, Rin finds herself unexpectedly returning to her roots to seek new allies in her fight. The southern armies are ill-equipped and poorly trained, but they are determined to resist the Hesperians, who have been using the civil war to move in on Nikan and quietly colonize the country. But the one thing the Hesperians don’t have is a conduit who can channel the power of the Phoenix goddess – and Rin intends to use that advantage to burn out every single last enemy in the country.
R. F. Kuang is back for another no-punches-pulled look at war and its many, many costs. Anyone who has read the previous books in the series knows that Kuang doesn’t hold back from examining the horrors of war, from the sacking of cities to the emotional tolls on survivors. THE BURNING GOD gives us a new angle to consider: guerilla warfare. Rin has to reacclimate herself to stop thinking of war as something to be conducted in a neat and orderly way, with clear battle lines and strategies, and start thinking of more unorthodox maneuvers. She and her allies must also contend with what to do with villages that were conquered and forced to give support to the enemy, and what to do with those who collaborated with their new rulers. Were collaborators taking advantage of a situation for selfish reasons? Were they saving their own skins at the expense of others? Were they trying to intervene and mitigate further harm to the village? There’s no clear cut answers, and further demonstrates the confusion of war.
Rin continues to be a fantastically complex POV character, determined to protect her country, but also willing to take on some extreme costs to do so. I was occasionally frustrated with Rin as it seemed like she was continuously out of her depth, especially at the beginning of the book, which seemed like an odd place for a character to be in book three of a trilogy. Sometimes it felt like her strategy was of the “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” variety. But Rin is barely 20, if that, so to some extent, it’s a realistic character. But more importantly, the way Rin is written begins to veer into paranoid, unreliable narrator territory, in a descent that was fascinating to watch. Any time Rin gets power, she begins to worry about who will take it away, an understandable fear given events of the past few books. That means her perceptions of other people’s actions might be flawed – or it might be dead on. Once again, we are not provided clear-cut, clean answers to Rin’s problems, leaving the reader to judge events for themselves.
A small thing I bumped on was that occasionally the overall pacing felt odd. Plot lines that seemed like a Big Deal were wrapped up sooner than anticipated, leaving me a bit flummoxed. Granted, it’s a 650 page finale to a sweeping trilogy, so there’s a lot to get done. I’d say I was more taken by surprise than disappointed by this development, especially since the moment had a big build up, only to be wrapped up fairly quickly.
But overall, it’s a small quibble in a book that had me hooked from beginning to end, and I absolutely cried at the ending. It’s not a neat and tidy resolution, but it is an ending, and one that made sense. I always struggle to say I “enjoy” these books since they are about the horrors of war in all their varieties, with a protagonist who is frequently selfish and flawed. Nevertheless, Rin is always fascinating to watch, even if it is like watching a car wreck happen while wishing the driver would veer at the last moment but knowing in your heart that they won’t. If you enjoyed the first two books in the series, you’ll find a satisfying conclusion, and if you haven’t started yet – the trilogy is finished, so get started!