1.) The Poppy War ★★★★
“Our world is a dream of the gods. Maybe they have other dreams. But all we have is this story unfolding, and in the script of this world, nothing’s going to bring [him] back to life.”
This was a masterpiece. I really loved The Poppy War, but this second installment was the book of my dreams. I’m a bit speechless, and I am not sure I can express exactly how much this story meant to be, but I shall try. Especially because that means I can start my ARC of The Burning God and immediately start crying for another 500 pages.
This series is an ownvoices Chinese inspired military fantasy, and this sequel, The Dragon Republic, picks up after the dark events in book one.I am going to try to be a little vague about the plot in this review, and just focus on the important themes and discussions, while also talking about the characters who own my entire heart. But this book very much focuses on shamanism, and I was very invested from the first to last page!
You may also all call me president of the Fang Runin defense and protection squad. I live my life for one sneaky snake, and it is her. Also, Kitay, my baby, will love and cherish and protect at all costs. Also, seeing the way that this world has changed him has broken me beyond repair, but his friendship with Rin means everything to me. Not at the way I was praying for his life throughout the last half of this book though.
Next, I was already sailing on this ship in part two of The Poppy War, but let’s talk about how rinezha is my new OTP of all time. Like, I cannot believe. I truly don’t want to get into spoilers for the middle book of this series, but when I tell you the end of this book had me gasping for air like a fish out of water, I’m not lying. The forehead kiss will haunt me until the end of my days, I promise you.
(the most breathtaking arc by paper-ish)
Seeing Nezha try to live his life for his family, for his country, for something within him, and for his immense loss that he is still harboring, is just heartbreaking. Rage and grief can take so many forms, so very differently. Carrying things you didn’t ask for can be the heaviest of all burdens, but the way my heart breaks double for Nezha. I think we all can feel like sometimes something is living inside us, but seeing him and Rin both try to live these lives that they are now forced to live is very harrowing and you can’t help but feel all the empathy in the world for them. (And I can’t help but ship them until my last dying breath!)
Something that I really love how it was depicted in this book was Rin’s healing. Rin is dealing with the aftermath of all the actions she committed, and she is living with immense grief, immense depression, immense trauma, and immense PTSD. I feel like so many times in stories we get to see characters “heal correctly” or whatever our society deems is correct. Yet, we get to see Rin make “bad” choices in her healing process. From drug addiction, to denial, to darker thoughts even. Yet, this is such a real depiction of trauma and grief, and one that we normally never get to see, especially in a fantasy setting. Rin is so rightfully angry, and her pain is so loud, you hear it unapologetically, and I loved it a lot.
“She was afraid that if she stopped being angry, she might crack apart.”
The Dragon Republic really focuses more on colorism more than The Poppy War did. Yes, we got to see Rin getting treated as lesser because of her darker skin, but in this second installment we really get to see how colorism runs rampant in this whole world, not just in small towns, or private school settings, or military branches. And Rin calls other characters out on this, and my heart was soaring, truly. Also, just the entire discussion of xenophobia at the heart of this story, while also always highlighting colonization, is so important and I can’t wait to see all of this discussed even more in The Burning God.
“Rin was so tired of having to prove her humanity.”
Another thing that I also really loved about The Dragon Republic is that it really showcases how bad things don’t only happen on battle fields. Humans are capable of terrible, horrible, evil things, and they don’t need to use war as an excuse. The backdrop of war will only ever be a backdrop, and heinous acts can be committed in the safest seeming of cities and places. Again, not to get into spoilers but every scene with Petra left me shaken to my very core. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt so deeply uncomfortable over a character ever, and it’s truly a testament to this story.
I feel like at this point I am witnessing Rebecca Kuang become a literary legend. The themes she isn’t only touching upon, but she’s completely dissecting. Her writing is truly so out of this world it’s mind-blowing to think how this is her first series, and how many more series she will be able to craft if she wishes to do so. Her characters are so beautifully flawed, and raw, and grey, and real, that I forget they only live between these pages.
It’s an honor to read and review these books. Also, I’m just so proud that a young Asian girl is putting all these old, crusty, white, cis, SFF men to shame. And I truly believe this is a once in a lifetime series, but I more so even believe that Rebecca Kuang is once in a lifetime author.
Trigger and Content Warnings: genocide, colonization, racism, colorism, murder, substance addiction, grief, PTSD, depression, talk of suicide, suicide, self-harm, abortion, talk of rape, rape, forced medical examinations, human experimentations, humiliation, animal death, animal torture, loss of a loved one, genital mutilation (to a character who was doing a bad thing), abandonment, violence, gore, and war themes. This is a very dark book at times, please use caution and make sure you are in the right headspace, friends!
(Extra special thank yous to my 2 emotional support bbies: Maëlys & May! Who both got to laugh at me for spiraling about tridents, got to listen to my heavy breathing over my OTP, and also crying as every theme developed. I’m sorry & I love you.) 💕💕