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

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Your bond will shatter. You will destroy one another. One will die, one will rule, and one will sleep for eternity

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. 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.

* * *
3 / 5

I listened to The Poppy War last year and it was fantastic. The narration was superb, the storyline was gripping, the characters complex and divisive. I loved Rin and I hated her. I wanted to keep her safe and I wanted to chuck her off a cliff. I recommended The Poppy War left right and centre. As a sequel, The Dragon Republic was disappointing.

The Empress had sold them to the Federation for a silver and a song, and none of them could rest until the rivers ran red with Daji’s blood

It was a bit painful even to type that. Disappointing. Make no mistake, in and of itself it was a perfectly fine book. Some flaws sure, but nothing to cry about. But compared to The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic was lacking. First off, Rin. I didn’t like her at all. In the first book, she had some redeemable qualities; I admired her ambition, her tenacity, and I sympathised with her childhood and her ambitions. Heck, I even understood her worship of Alton. Her final actions at the end of the first book were horrifying and it made such an emotional impact precisely because Rin was at least somewhat likeable.

Rin in The Dragon Republic is not even remotely likable. She is whingy and self-centred and self-absorbed, and her loyalties change faster than I can snap my fingers. If I read the name Alton one more time I’m going to punch something. And yeah, I get it, you aren’t supposed to like Rin; she’s a mass-murderer for god’s sake. But there are antagonists and then there are whiny little children. (For an example of a great character that I didn’t always like or agree with, see The Traitor Baru Cormorant).

Cities needed water to survive, just like bodies needed blood. So if they wanted to seize the Empire, they needed only to sail through its arteries

The pace is plodding. This is a hefty book. Rin flits from being addicted to opium and unable to operate, to roving with the Cike, and then fighting for someone else. Her loyalties chop and change as she constantly changes her mind about what it is right to do. She flops between horrified by what she has done and supremely blasé about it; it’s weird. The book manages to perfectly portray what it feels like to be totally unsure what the right thing to do is. There are multiple factions in the conflict that governs The Dragon Republic, and Rin doesn’t know how to do anything but war, but some part of her hates not knowing what is right. I loved the conflict but hated how the result of it was that Rin’s aims and goals kept changing, making me as the reader unsure where the book was going, what story it was trying to tell.

To call the gods is to gamble with madness

I definitely feel conflicted about The Dragon Republic. On the one hand, it wasn’t as good as The Poppy War and Rin was very annoying. On the other, it has beautiful writing, deep personal and moral conflict, and it kept managing to surprise me. Approach this book with caution!

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of The Dragon Republic. 

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