I love those kind of sequels where the main character has everything that they clung to, torn away from them. When they have to re-evaluate the things that identified with. Figure out who they will have to be. A sequel born of flames and emerging not unscathed, but anew. Enter The Dragon Republic.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Edelweiss. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Tw: Opium addiction, ptsd, self harm, rape, suicidal thoughts
The Dragon Republic is a story that advances the world of The Poppy War in a mountain moving, earthquake inducing, way. But what really stuck with me, even days after finishing, is how dedicated The Dragon Republic is to portraying Rin’s grief and recovery. Reeling from the events of The Poppy War Rin is experiencing a grief so raw it’s ripping her open. Not only that, but a guilt that seems all-consuming, haunted by memories of carnage and destruction. On top of this, the vengeful god inside of her constantly pushes her closer to the edge, throwing these memories of fire and rage at Rin.
All the characters we love so much, the ones we barely understand, the ones we relate to more than we’d like to admit are scarred by war. Reeling, unsure of what to do next. When our friends have become people we used to know, shadows of illusions and fragments of expectations. The Dragon Republic is motivated not only by Rin’s burning anger, her desire for revenge, but a hope for more – a new Republic. Because sometimes it takes a wildfire for new growth to live.
On Rin’s quest for revenge, she’s fueled by anger, grief, and guilt – without knowing what will come next. Because all that matters is to channel these feelings into a mottled sense of justice. The Dragon Republic is a book that challenges everything we knew of Rin from The Poppy War. It’s one of those sequels that breaks a character down, stripping them of the ideas, expectations, and dreams they had. Forcing them to e-evaluate everything. Bodies full of illusions of being a hero, grand and shimmering, which are dispelled, replaced with visions of mangled bodies and nightmares.
Without all the illusions around us, the relationships we thought we needed, Rin is forced to make choices about what she wants to do – how much agency she will have in this war. And what makes Rin’s story have such an impact is how relatable some of her struggles are: not knowing if we are strong enough, if we are capable of leadership, if we have the strength to re-make ourselves, to fall out of love with an illusion. It’s basically the same reasons I love Thor Ragnorak. There’s something so much more satisfying in watching the characters we love have to come to terms with their complacency, their old dreams, and new ambitions. When we’ve built an image of ourselves in our head – our friends, our identity, our abilities, and we’re brought back to square one.
Morally Grey Characters
What Kuang constantly excels at is creating characters who are morally grey. Characters who have all committed actions that keep us awake at night. Tallies above our heads. In this war against friends, bitter rivals, and new enemies everything we’ve ever done has come back to haunt us. Choices and decisions from decades ago barreling towards us with a vengeance.
War is a serious of hard choices and none of them actually feel like winning. The enemies, the waiting vipers, and the betrayal is never what it seems. While I loved Rin’s growth in The Dragon Republic the most, don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of politics, battles, ingenious inventions, and betrayal. Conflicts which ask us if we can believe in a new dream? If we can shed our decades of prejudice and privilege? And treachery set in motion decades ago.
It introduces the conflicts, our squabbles in an international setting – a series of calculated moves, people playing their long game. A series of harsh choices to sacrifice playing pieces and tip the balance – when there’s a face behind every loss. New characters are introduced which will spark your love for this series anew. A series where we all have blood on our hands, from generations before, our parents, and our mistakes. The Dragon Republic broke my heart in the smallest of ways. And it pieced it together again with days after as I reminisce on the sheer scale and mastery of The Dragon Republic.