Book Review Date: August 29th, 2019
Written By: R.F. Kuang
Spoiler Warning, this is a review for the sequel to The Poppy War!
The war is over. The war has just begun.
Three times throughout history, Nikan has fought for its survival in the bloody Poppy Wars. Though the third battle has just ended, shaman and warrior Rin cannot forget the atrocity she committed to save her people. Now she is on the run from her guilt, the opium addiction that holds her like a vice, and the murderous commands of the fiery Phoenix—the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.
Though she does not want to live, she refuses to die until she avenges the traitorous Empress, who betrayed Rin’s homeland to its enemies. Her only hope is to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who plots to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new republic.
But neither the Empress nor the Dragon Warlord are what they seem. The more Rin witnesses, the more she fears her love for Nikan will force her to use the Phoenix’s deadly power once more.
Because there’s nothing Rin won’t sacrifice to save her country… and exact her vengeance.
This is going to be a bit of a two-part review in the sense that I’m reviewing this today as part of a blog tour, but due to life just really throwing some curveballs at me lately, I’m only halfway through the book. So this first part of the review will be about my opinions on both books up to this point, and then I will follow up and add the review of the entire book once I complete it, which, barring any more ridiculousness from my life, should be early next week.
That said, on to the review!
So the first thing that really excited me about these books (aside from the gorgeous covers) was the fact that there was a character with the same nickname as my baby, which is rare to see. So I was immediately sort of invested in Rin because of that. I also really related to her workaholic, do-what-you-must-to-make-your-own-destiny attitude/personality. So I really enjoyed those early chapters of her working to get where she wanted to be despite all the obstacles.
The book didn’t necessarily go the direction I thought it would, but I didn’t hate it. Just had to reframe my thinking about it as I read. But I noticed myself liking Rin less as the story went on. I couldn’t really pinpoint why, exactly. But I think it’s because she as a character gets rather lead around. She appears to take initiative and is certainly a rash and not necessarily good decision maker, but I like her better when she is being led by others, which is a very dissonant feeling for me because I prefer a strong female lead. Which in many ways she is. Rin is a complicated character for me.
So as we enter the second story, Rin is grappling a lot with her choices in book one and is basically a junkie. On the one hand I appreciate the thoroughness of writing her character being opium addicted and struggling to break the addiction and how that all comes about, but the story does sort of drag a bit in the early chapters because of this. I just wanted her to stop whining and get on with it. But I’m not an addict, so I can’t relate the way others might. I see the reasoning behind these chapters and how they are playing into the story now—which picked up once she got her shit together—and think it will serve her character arc well. But man, she is a frustrating character. Perhaps I am spoiled by having just read a really powerful, smart lead character in what was essentially 400-500 pages of brutal bloody war (thanks Pierce Brown) but there is something lacking in these stories for me in terms of the character and her role in the war. Obviously this is the difference between seeing a war from a leader who has incredible skill and years and years of training and combat experience vs Rin who has an incredible and unreliable magical power, a few years of training and very little combat experience outside of stealth magical assassin missions.
But what it lacks for me in this area, it makes up for in intriguing me as far as the magical and religious angles that are starting to appear in this book. We are seeing the westerners come into play, and their ideologies. And it’s really interesting to see what would essentially be my culture being shown as the outsiders/unfamiliar force. That’s rare. And I really appreciate it. It’s both familiar and also disorienting. I really hope that I see more of that in the next half of the book and that seems to be the direction it’s going. There’s another war coming, of course, and Rin has some really big challenges forced upon her this time. I’m excited to see where that goes for her and how she will be able to overcome them. There are a lot of politics at play and a lot of uncertainties at this stage in the book, so there’s a lot to look forward to in these coming chapters. I’m a bit in a war story fatigue at this point. The Poppy War had a really brutal chapter which, trigger warning: [depicts horrible violence against children and infants including rape and torture] which really turned me away from the war aspect of these books. On the one hand I know that this is being probably very realistic, on the other, as a mother of two small girls who I already picture being hurt in a myriad of ways as only a mother can do (seriously, moms, tell me I’m not the only one who jumps to worse case scenarios of every circumstance your kids get into) I really hate having to read more depictions of that which my mind hadn’t managed to think up yet. I know the cost of war isn’t just taken from grown men and soldiers, and I know that the chapter I’m referring to is a catalyst for Rin’s actions later on, so I appreciate what the author was doing there. But it makes me wary of what to expect in this book and anxious to just get through the war stuff and on to other things here in the Dragon Republic.
Wow, I had a lot to say. Okay. I’ll stop here for now and will update with my thoughts on the rest of the book once I finish it! Send me lots of “kids go to bed early and stay asleep all night so I can read” vibes please!