REVIEW: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

**I received an ARC from Netgalley. These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Release Date: August 6, 2019

My Rating: 5 stars

Summary: The searing follow-up to 2018’s most celebrated fantasy debut – THE POPPY WAR.

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.


It doesn't matter what you want. Don't you understand that? You are the most powerful creature in this world right now. You have an ability that can begin or end wars. You could launch this Empire into a glorious new and united age, and you could also destroy us. What you don't get to do is remain neutral. When you have the power that you do, your life is not your own.
You know how sequels sometimes aren't as good because you're constantly comparing it to its amazing predecessor? Well, make no mistake, The Dragon Republic does not suffer from second-book syndrome. Kuang carries on from the momentum of The Poppy War to write a sequel that somehow surpasses its predecessor. The Dragon Republic immerses you in Rin's world; you'll experience these events as if you were the one stabbed or betrayed, in pain or in power.

I've been sitting on this review for so long because . . . I'm still dying over it, really. There's truly so much pain in this book, partially because there are so many betrayals. Conversely, Kuang gives us a lot more good, almost heartwarming scenes than the first book. I say "almost" because, well, you're filled with so much dread for what's to come that it's hard to appreciate them; I mean, immediately after these scenes, something bad happens, and this is why we can't have nice things.

There's not much to say without completely spoiling a lot of the events in this book, so much like my review of The Poppy War, I'll be vague and talk more about the themes.

Rin has so much character development. The Poppy War has her angry, permanently overfilled with rage. Don't get me wrong, she still is in this book, but in The Dragon Republic, we get to see a more controlled anger, which in a way is much, much worse. Her anger in the first book was so destructive and unchanneled; really, that would get her nowhere if she kept it up, a fate like, or worse than, Altan's. Now her rage is more channeled.
The anger was a shield. The anger helped her to keep from remembering what she'd done. Because as long as she was angry, then it was okay — she'd acted within reason. She was afraid that if she stopped being angry, she might crack apart.
In line with this, her relationship with Altan is called into question. She's obviously his foil, toeing the line of giving into her anger like him, a cycle of self-destruction that will only end in ruin, but did she really know him? Were they friends, pseudo-family, something more, or something less?

I also love how she's a horrible commander and can recognize it. Sometimes when you have greatness thrust upon you, you screw it all up. Rin's always been able to follow someone else's orders and is fine with that. Eventually she's obviously so desperate for someone else to give orders and be responsible for the consequences that she turns to a certain unexpected someone and their cause. She wants to be a soldier again, but she is destined for bigger things, something she comes to realize over the course of this book.
At Sinegard they had just been children, stupid, naive, playing at war games that they had never seriously believed would become their reality.
We get to meet a new enemy, and their rhetoric is truly sickening. Kuang has been open about the inspiration she's drawn from real life events, and remembering how these beliefs were once commonplace (and still are, to some people) is horrific.

I did relate to Rin, though, and how she almost starts believing their rhetoric. Having grown up Asian and non-religious in a predominantly white, religious setting, I understand how easy it is to almost want to give into their proselytizing and believe in something more than yourself. Also, the amount of preaching and attempts to convert you is very true.

Similarly, when Rin realized how much she changed herself to fit in with the higher classes, I really felt that. I went to Kuang's signing last year, and knowing the school she went to (I say that in the least creepiest way possible; it's just that I also went to private school and it's a relatively small world, private schooling in this area, so I've been to that school for events) and that she's an immigrant, she's been through similar feelings. What person of color or first/second-generation immigrant hasn't? There's a line between acclimating to your new environment and adapting by changing yourself completely to fit in; sometimes the pressure pushes you to adapt.

Kuang's writing has somehow gotten even better. I found parts of the first book to be jolting, but The Dragon Republic is strongly cohesive from start to finish. Also I reread The Poppy War after reading this ARC and there is so much foreshadowing and little bits of plot that she connects. I recommend reading the first book again before jumping into this one so you'll catch all of it because honestly, Kuang's mind works on another level.

     Nothing lasts.
     This was not a world of men. It was a 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's so much more that I want to talk about because SPOILERS, so just know that I'm silently sitting here, suffering and waiting for this book to release so you all can relate to the pain I'm still feeling, months later. I'll just say that her relationships with people we've met in the first book grow, in some cases, into something more. Who'd have thought that in a book about war, I'd be most devastated by . . . oh never mind. I'll just leave you with this quote, no context.
"I don't want to hurt you," he said.
"Oh, trust me." Her lip curled. "You couldn't."
Any expectations of this novel that you might have, Kuang shoots out of the water and sets on fire. This book is one of the strongest sequels I've ever had the privilege of reading, and I cannot wait to see how she one-ups herself again in the third book, especially after THAT ENDING. If you think you're ready for this book, be prepared for how little you can prepare to experience the masterpiece that is The Dragon Republic.

Here are some of the hand-lettered quotes I did for The Dragon Republic! Unfortunately my new theme doesn't display photos well, so click each picture for higher resolution.

"All you want is your revenge. But you could be so much more. Do so much more. You could change history." 
"You have no idea how it feels. The gods will break you."
"Our world is a dream of the gods. Maybe they have other dreams. But all we have is this story unfolding."
"'You're dead,' she said. 'I saw you die.'"
"I used to be scared of war. Then I realized I was very good at it."
"Between us, we have the fire and the water. I'm quite sure that together, we can take on the wind."
"You will be the spear that brings this empire down."

About the Author: Rebecca F. Kuang is the Nebula, Locus, and Campbell Award nominated author of The Poppy War and its forthcoming sequel The Dragon Republic (Harper Voyager). She is currently pursuing an MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies at Cambridge University on a Marshall Scholarship, where her dissertation examines propaganda literature by Northeast writers during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Her debut The Poppy War was listed by Times, Amazon, Goodreads, and the Guardian as one of the best books of 2018 and has won the Crawford Award and Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel.

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Maira Gall