The Burning God (The Poppy War #3) by R.F. Kuang | ARC Review

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ARC provided by Harper Voyager
Publication: November 17th, 2020

1.) The Poppy War ★★★★
2.) The Dragon Republic ★★★★★

“Rin had spent so long hating how she felt when she burned, hating her fire and her god. Not anymore.”

The Poppy War trilogy is truly once in a lifetime and this conclusion was honestly a work of art all itself. This series is a military epic fantasy that is ownvoices and inspired from the authors family history and the stories she learned from them. Heavy themes of war, colonization, racism, colorism, genocide, cycles of abuse, and so many different types of trauma are never shied away from. I’ve read and reviewed many books these last six years of my life, and I’m not sure a series has impacted me more than this one. Every sentence has meaning, every chapter is so well planned, every event conveys layers and layers of thoughts and feelings. History is truly created by the victors mostly with the most blood on their hands, and the stories that get told are mostly through a white and colonized lens. R.F. Kuang has done so much with these three books and they mean so much to so many Asian readers.

Okay, okay, let me try to give you a review now! Also, please check out my dear friend Petrik’s review, because he is the reason I requested an ARC of The Poppy War back in early 2018. He is also a Chinese reviewer and his voice means a lot to me! Next, this review is going to be spoiler free for The Burning God, but not for The Poppy War or The Dragon Republic! Please use caution reading this review if you have not read the previous two installments in this series!

(beautiful art of Rin by merijae!)

“She was capable of such cruelties, even without the Phoenix’s power, and that both delighted and scared her.”

Rin and Kitay have had everything in their world turned upside down again at the start of this book, but they are both desperate to reclaim a country that has been taken from them repeatedly. They’ve also both been playing for the winning side for so long, they soon learn that tactics and strategy feel vastly different when you are now the underdogs. Rin has only known destruction for so long, but now she gets to know what it feels like to be a liberator instead of only a tool because of her god.

We really get to see many different sides of shamanism in this book, and I adored that aspect with my whole heart. I feel like I really can’t say a lot here, but the trifecta and the additions were amazing. I will say my only complaint for this book comes from the trifecta, but I still couldn’t get enough of all of the different types of shamanism in this book! Especially with a few new characters who easily made me feel very many emotions while this story progressed!

Speaking of different types of gods, I will say with utmost confidence that The Burning God has the best fight scenes I have ever read. Like, ever, in my whole life. Rin and Nezha just… the imagery, the banter, the emotions, their complicated actions, everything is another tier. Like, the pouring rain and the breathing of fire alone had me burning and drowning in the very same moment. Utter perfection in every combat scene and it was some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever seen strung together. Truly one of my favorite parts of this book, and not to lessen any of the important themes and values, but I don’t think I knew yearning until I read Nezha and Rin on different sides of a war neither want. The buildup of every encounter, every battle, every conversation, I was truly quaking. 

“Hate was its own kind of fire and if you had nothing else, it kept you warm.”

This book very much centers around trauma and the many different cycles and forms. We get to see so many different kinds of trauma from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, but we also get to constantly see the trauma from xenophobia and the impact of racism and colonization. We also get to see the way that many different characters within the book attempt to heal, live, and cope with their different traumas. And even though it is very heartbreaking, it’s very real, and very honest, and very important. I feel like The Burning God especially puts an emphasis on how abuse and trauma can be more easily hidden because of love, duty, and maybe even vengeance, too.

“You don’t fix hurts by pretending they never happened. You treat them like infected wounds. You dig deep with a burning knife and gouge out the rotten flesh and then, maybe, you have a chance to heal.”

And Rin’s trauma is so deep. She always remembers what it felt like the be a war orphan who was looked down upon from the very start. She knows what it feels like to be considered a lesser student because of her skin color and because of where she is from. She is haunted by the betrayal she has endured by the people who she thought she loved. She will never forget all the things she has seen and the price of war. She is realizing all the shit she has been forced to internalize because of the environments she has had to survive in. Rin harness her hate and anger and desire for revenge and keeps it close to her at all times in this book.

“They want to erase us. It’s their divine mandate. They want to make us better, to improve us, by turning us into a mirror of themselves.”

I feel like I could write an entire review on the colonization in this book alone. The reader gets to see the threat of this more and more in each book, but when Rin visits “New City” for the first time, it was harrowing in every sense of the word. Yes, this book is about a horrible and terrible civil war, but the Hesperians are the greatest evil of this whole book. How the Hesperians took over this city, took over the name, took over the foundation, took over the imports and exports, took over the military, all the while trying to convince everyone that it’s for the greater good, that it’s the right and better way, that it’s the only way. This might be the Filipino coming out extra hard, but white people love to colonize everything, but especially the people of the land they try to take, while always reminding them they are and never will be truly equal to them. All of the scenes that truly disturbed me were with the Hesperians, and they so horrifically depicted what has happened to so many countries over and over again, and what is still going on unapologetically in 2020. I could feel Rin’s helplessness with everything I am, and I hope people really process who the villain of this story truly is. Magical gods disguised as dragons, power hungry men, and internalized racism are terrifying, but there aren’t words for people trying to rip the identity of your culture from you.

“There are never any new stories, just old ones told again and again as this universe moves through its cycles of civilization and crumbles into despair.”

This book also emphasizes how the victors get to decide how the history is written. They get to create their own villains, their own heroes, their own story. History books are written by the same colonizers who are still trying to take absolutely everything and make it westernized, hence the fact most people (myself included) were not educated on what was going on in China pre WWII, and what happened when Japan marched on Nanjing.

“When you conquered as a totally and completely as he had, you could alter the course of everything. You could determine the stories that people told about you for generations.”

I’ve had so many people in my DMs on goodreads and on insta asking about my feelings on how this last book concluded, and I never really know how to answer it, but the answer is heartbreaking perfection. I honestly cannot think of a better conclusion, yet I do think that it won’t be for everyone. But as the events in The Burning God unfold, it becomes more and more clear. And I really do think it is a perfect parallel(s) to how things in our world felt then and how they very much still feel now. Also, war is unspeakably hard, but when you’ve lived your life for battle after battle, trying to live after a war is over can be just as hard, just in a different kind of way.

“Take what you want, it said. I’ll hate you for it. But I’ll love you forever. I can’t help but love you. Ruin me, ruin us, and I’ll let you.”

Overall, I’m going to be really honest. I cried while writing this review, and I’m very teary eyed right now with my final thoughts. This series just means so much to Asian readers and reviewers. It was such an honor to read these books, to feel haunted but seen by these themes, to fall in love with Fang Runin over and over again. What a blessing it was to see all three of these characters, walk alongside them, see them change and grow, because of their environments, because of expectations, and because of their damn selves. I truly don’t have the words. From Sinegard, to every battlefield, to the very end. I am rendered speechless. Not only do I think Rebecca is going to redefine so many parts of the book world with her writing (both with this trilogy and all her other endeavors to come), but I think she will inspire and help pave the way for so many Asian authors to come. She truly ended this trilogy perfectly, I’m just not ready to say goodbye, but I am so eternally honored for this series existence, and I truly will sing it’s praises forever.

5

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Trigger and Content Warnings: animal abuse, animal sacrifice, animal death, colonization, dark torture, dark murder, death, racism, genocide, colorism, sexism, assault, talk of rape, talk of sex trafficking, talk of being buried alive that I feel could be claustrophobia inducing, talk of suicide, abuse, talk of abuse in past, PTSD depiction, grief depiction, so many traumas depicted very hauntingly, talk of drug addiction, drug use, drugging against people’s wills, bombings, self-harm, forced captivity (also claustrophobia inducing, I feel), panic attacks, blood depiction, talk of genital mutilation (to people who committed bad acts), cannibalism, talk of kidnapping in the past, talk of a graveyard devoted to children, mention of miscarriages and abortions, mention of shock therapies, mention of unwanted medical experimentation, starvation and famine, and just overall very dark war themes. This book does not shy away from all aspects of war, and can be extremely hard to read at times, please use caution and make sure you’re in the right headspace! (Please credit me if you copy paste these trigger warnings! It takes a lot of time, energy, and labor for me to try my best to help ensure the people who read my reviews have the safest reading experience possible! You just read a review (and book) about colonization, don’t steal an Asian reviewer’s work! Thank you!)

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Maëlys❤

The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R.F. Kuang

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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!
5

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(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.) 💕💕

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“But I warn you, little warrior. The price of power is pain.”

First and foremost, please go read one of my best friends in this entire world’s review: Petrik’s review is not only amazing, he is also an ownvoices Chinese reviewer. Next, I just want to warn you guys that this is a very dark book that is heavily inspired by Nanking Massacre. Please use caution and know that this book has major trigger and content warnings for war themes, drug use, substance addiction, self-harm, racism, misogyny, genocide, bullying, abandonment, abuse, animal death, animal cruelty, brutal torture, brutal killing, brutal rape (off screen, but still maybe the worst I’ve ever read), mutilation, very graphic depictions of how children and adults died, experimentations on people against their will, colorism, colonization. Again, this is a very dark book that carries some very dark themes. Please use caution.

“War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains”

The Poppy War is a fantastic debut that I feel so very privileged to have received an ARC of. This is the first book in an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy story, and this first installment is told in three parts; each getting darker and darker. But in part one we meet our main protagonist, Rin, who is a war orphan who is living with a foster family that was forced to adopt her.

Rin has been working at the family’s local business, while also being forced to deal drugs. That is, until one day her family decided that it would be more in their interest for them marry Rin off to a man who is much older than her and who she has never met before. Rin is then forced to do the only thing that will allow her to not have this life forced upon her.

“Well, fuck the heavenly order of things. If getting married to a gross old man was her preordained role on this earth, then Rin was determined to rewrite it.”

In this world, children will study their entire lives for a test called the Keju. And the top fifty students in the country will be allowed to go the empire’s capitol to study at the best military school in the world. There they will be able to become the world’s best generals, tacticians, soldiers, and more. And all the students wish to one day be warriors for the Empire. And Rin dedicates herself to studying so that she can not only escape this marriage, but to also escape her abusive foster parents, and the entire town that has treated her awful just because she was born a war orphan.

And against all odds, Rin gets accepted. But once she gets to the school, she soon realizes that her spot isn’t guaranteed to last. At the end of the year, the different teachers will pick which students they wish to have study under them. And Rin soon starts to see that most of the school is not only very privileged, but also have power just from their last name and who their family is already in the current military.

And the reason part one of this book is hands down my favorite is because I love this school setting so much. And like many other reviewers have already said, it is very reminiscent of The Name of the Wind. From the attending kids that have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths, to unexpected companionship, to horrible teachers, to wonderfully odd teachers. And Rin becomes obsessed with not only impressing these teachers and her peers, but to prove that she is also deserving of her spot.

“You’re a war orphan. You’re a southerner. You weren’t supposed to pass the Keju. The Warlords like to claim that the Keju makes Nikan a meritocracy, but the system is designed to keep the poor and illiterate in their place. You’re offending them with your very presence.”

And while Rin is working to become the best at her school, terrible things are brewing outside the walls of the academy. Terrible, unthinkable things, that are about to impact the whole world. And Rin is forced to quickly learn about another world all together, where gods can make a person a shaman that can wield that power, but at a cost. And Rin has to discover for herself if the price is worth it.

“The nature of this god is to destroy. The nature of this god is to be greedy, to never be satisfied with what he has consumed.”

This is an action packed read, with beautiful writing that feels like a treat to read. This is a story filled with twists and turns, and you might think you know where the story is going, to only be completely dumbfounded. I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough.

Also, there is sort of an enemies to friends (maybe lovers eventually) element in this book, and I’m dying to see more in book two. Like, there is going to be more of it? Right? Please. Seriously, what God do I have to let inhabit my body? I need it.

“Because I can,” she said. “Because he thought he could get rid of me. Because I want to break his stupid face.”

And ultimately, this is a story about a girl who has been given nothing but pain in a world that constantly reminds her that she is lesser. And she overcomes every single hurdle and becomes not only what the world said she couldn’t be, but she becomes what she wanted to be. Like, this book is powerful, empowering, and a love letter to all girls that are told they can’t do something daily.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, even if it got even a little too dark for me at times. I think this is a really amazing set up for what is sure to be an impressive debut fantasy series! I cannot wait to see what R.F. Kuang does next, because I really think The Poppy War is a bright shining star in 2018 releases.


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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Jules! ❤