There was no world in which I didn’t read and love The Burning God. It’s truly impossible to write a coherent review of one of my favorite series of all time. So just prepare to witness a lot of screaming. This series has grown so much over time and it’s doubly difficult to write a review which is comprehensive, but I’ll try. Keep reading this book review to witness my emotional destruction.
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: rape, cannibalism, sexual assault, abuse, war crimes
Before going into The Burning God, I was ready for my heart to be destroyed. That is how I’ll always feel going into a series that’s not only one of my favorite, but also is from an author who I associate with emotional destruction. I will forever be amazed at the plotting and character development of Kuang. Having been a fan of this series before The Poppy War released, I’ve been able to witness this amazing character, and world, development throughout the series. It’s been a privilege.
What the World Makes of Us
Seeing the ways Rin has been shaped by her past, her mistakes, her vengeance, and her pain. The ways she’s been turned into a weapon, embracing the Phoenix within her, consistently trying to fight for what is right, especially when it’s hard. It makes me question what the world makes of us. Not only what they think about us, judging our decisions when they profit of the blood we spill, but also what the world turns us into. The monstrous names, the prejudices rained against us, the fear steeped in desire.
The ways the definition of humanity shifts depending on who is trying to justify their crimes. How weapons are asked of us, roles and expectations, only to be denied afterwards. The infinite ways stories can be erased, removed, and retconned to destroy an entire group of people. To excuse an entire genocide. But at the same time, how we see them not as humans, not as individuals, but as something abstract, non-human, to make the killing easier, and the guilt that comes at night wears their shapes, but not their faces. The feeling when war starts to feel like the status quo, something unreal. The disconnect between seeing numbers of casualties on the page versus wading through corpses looking for shoes.
The Nature of Change
A large theme in The Burning God is the pace of change. There’s an epic level of strategizing, of using people as placeholders, but also a certain distance from those fighting the wars and those holding the cards. An unwillingness to expose our positions, while also sacrificing the pieces on the board. We begin to wonder what the difference is between compliance and consequences. What we are willing to sacrifice to survive to the next day. How do we balance the consequences that comply, with the retribution from disagreement?
What morality are we willing to trade for control? At the same time the current conflict with the foreign invaders introduces an element of colonization, the ways their ways of life and cultures are erased, transformed by prejudice and new thinking. At the same time, what pieces of change, of evolution are necessary in the growth of our society? Because no one ever said growth was painless. There’s a reason we call it growing pain.
Rin’s Character Arc
I couldn’t help wondering what Rin’s ending might entail. Can she ever find happiness, peace, comfort in the silence, a good nights sleep? As the fires she unleashes begin to blend together in barbed memories which lose their sting. Did we truly have a choice? Or do we convince ourselves we didn’t because the option of one reveals our guilt? Rin struggles with this desire to give into the flame within us, and while we may not all have that kind of power, that desire can resonate. Those moments when it seems easier to give into the current, the rage thrumming through our veins, except we never have to clean up a scorched country afterwards.
The Burning God tells the story of a bloodied revolution that cleanses itself with fire, retribution, and screams (mostly of mine while reading). Despite my review, and just my general state of emotional destruction, The Burning God also has moments of happiness, laughter, and humor. Because while this series is incredibly masterful, there’s also a strong sense of character and friendship. One that gives Kuang’s characters heart, emotional angst, and tear potential. It asks us what mark we will make on the world, on a society that might revere us, or be revolted by us.
It’s an epic conclusion to a fabulous series which will have my entire heart forever. I cannot recommend it more highly for those who love epic political fantasy, complex heroines, and stories which examine ethics and war. Find The Burning God on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.