THE DRAGON REPUBLIC NetGalley Review: Alt History Vibes with a Fantasy Flair

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The Dragon Republic was written by R.F. Kuang and published by Harper Voyager. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Click here for the Synopsis!

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.

Last year The Poppy War landed on shelves and redefined all of my preconceived notions of what a debut novel could look like. Kuang’s writing is unapologetic, brutal, but still so very relatable. Every character she creates is inundated with nuance and has an important effect on their world. When I turned the final page of The Poppy War I knew that Kuang would an author to watch, and her follow up, The Dragon Republic, only solidified that belief.

If you have not yet read The Poppy War, I would encourage you to stop here and pick up a copy from your local library or indie book shop. If you are a fan of Harry Potter but have grown up a few years and want a more challenging read, it’s for you. If you love Game of Thrones but could do without all of the sex, it’s for you. If you love The Kingkiller Chronicles but want a bit of a faster pace, it’s for you as well. Be warned, there are challenging themes and content in these books that may not be well received by all readers.

Review

Fang Runin (Rin) has not had it easy, and at the close of the third poppy war, she made choices that will scar her forever. Throughout The Dragon Republic you see Rin grapple with many foes, but perhaps the most troublesome is Rin herself. She can’t decide if her choices were worth the fallout. She’s left feeling broken and abandoned by the people and the god she once relied on.

The general atmosphere of this sequel is quite different to book 1. In The Poppy War, Rin moves through several different settings and eventually lands in the middle of a war. In book 2, there’s almost nothing but military strategizing and war. The more static feel allows you to really get to know Rin in a different way. I think it was important for this shift in narrative during this part of Rin’s story.

This series is loaded with heady and challenging ideas. Rin’s struggle with her wartime choices is just one small example. Throughout The Dragon Republic, the beliefs of all of Nikan are called into question. The neighboring country of Hesperia sends missionaries to try and “cure” the Nikara of their misguided belief in a pantheon of gods in exchange for a singular creator. Sound vaguely familiar? Kuang does a masterful job of injecting real-world historical events into her books. This alt-history vibe makes the characters and atrocities of war feel more real. It’s especially poignant in a time when so many countries and groups are labeled as The Other by one of the largest powers in the free world. The Dragon Republic serves as a reminder of what humans have done, and how history can repeat itself no matter how far we think we’ve come.

Once again, a fairly long span of time passes from page 1 to page 560. Kuang has a way of speeding through a timeline like few other authors I have encountered. Personally, I love this because wild things just keep on happening. Kuang doesn’t tend to leave a lot of unanswered questions at the end of her books, and it’s mind-blowing to see how many problems arise and are dealt with in the same story.

The platonic friendship between Rin and her classmate Kitay continues to build throughout The Dragon Republic. If there’s one thing popular media needs more of, it’s male/female platonic friendships! I love their dynamic for so many reasons. Kitay is never afraid to call out Rin for being stubborn or making a poor choice. Even if they disagree, they still care for and protect each other. I am especially excited to see how their bond will continue to grow throughout the rest of this series.

I do sincerely hope that if you haven’t already given The Poppy War a try, that you will consider adding it to your reading list!

Trigger warnings include: Emotional and sexual abuse, child abuse, wartime atrocities, gore, medical trauma, self harm.

The Dragon Republic will be released on August 6th…so that gives you plenty of time to read The Poppy War.

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