A Review of ‘The Dragon Republic’ by R. F. Kuang, Book 2 in the Poppy War series

Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own.

I liked this book quite a bit as I read it. I read book 1 of this series a year or two ago when it first came out and I was less than hyped about it than a lot of people. I enjoyed book 1, but I saw a lot of storytelling choices which I did not agree with. For me, this second book in the series is a lot better, up until the point that I think this will be one of the top five books I’ve read this year.

I listened to the audiobook, so my spelling of some of the names are probably wrong.


CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:

Rin is a more likable protagonist in this book than she was in book 1. In this book she struggles with the fallout of her choices made in book 1, and the lifestyle choices she’s been forced to make. Her drug abuse, as an example, comes to a head and she’s forced to make the hard choice of going cold-turkey.

The side characters were good, but not great. In a lot of Fantasy books the side characters are kinda bland. Not here. The side characters here had well defined personalities and motivations, which is great! But while they were all unique characters, at the same time I didn’t find many of them to be super compelling. The main exceptions were Nezha, Kitay and Venka, but the rest kinda blended into the background.

Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (B)


PACING AND STRUCTURE

This is very, very fast paced, tightly written and tightly plotted. I finished the book in about three days total, which is fast by my standards. If you want a slow, methodical story, this ain’t it.

The book was structured well, describing the twists and turns of a civil war. Every scene is deliberately placed and structured for maximal effect. There is very little narrative fat in the story, for better or for worse.

I had a few problems, but they’re minor. I’ll talk about this more in my coming literary analysis.

Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (B)


PLOT

Great plot. As I said above, this is a book about the twists and turns of a civil war. No spoilers, but I loved it. Rin and her fellow militarized shaman are fighting on behalf of a rebellious republic against an ancient feudal empire. At the same time, the republic is trying to get the help of an external (and morally dubious) colonizing empire in their quest for freedom. The catch is that the colonizers HATE shaman like Rin. This adds a push/pull dynamic to the plot, where the republic alliance is pulled between the magic which Rin provides and the worldly power the colonizers offer.

Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (A+)


EVERYTHING ELSE (SETTING, WORLDBUILDING, PROSE AND THEME)

The worldbuilding and setting in this story is much the same as in the first book. The good is that the author does a good job writing a compelling setting styled after turn-of-the-last-century China, with a couple exceptions. The tech level of the setting is a bit all over the place. There are zeppelins and arquebuses going on at the same time, which is a bit wild. If after you read the first book in the series you want more information about the gods and lore, you’re going to be disappointed. The narrative of this story didn’t deeply explore the gods and lore of the story, which disappointed me.

This book is grimdark. I felt it was grimdark in the wrong ways.

  • I personally believe that grimdark stories should have some hope for a happy ending, because hope makes the sting of those hopes being dashed more painful.
  • This book felt hopeless. That hopelessness made the downer ending less painful because there were no hope to be dashed. There was never any real chance of a truly happy ending in this novel, and the tone of the book suffered as a result.
  • This book’s downer ending would have been MUCH darker and more depressing had there been hope for a happy ending instead. Which is a pity, because I wanted the ending to be darker and more depressing.

The prose was like a blunt weapon. It was clean, it hit hard, it left an impression. Not exceptionally subtle, but effective. I can respect it.

The book contained three major themes: one about self-control, one about toxic relationships, and one about racism. Of the three, I think the theme of toxic relationships was well done.

I give Everything Else: (C)


SUMMARY

I had a good time reading this. My main complaint is that it was too fast paced for my taste, but that is a very personal complaint which I think not too many people will agree with. This is very much the second book in a series and will make no sense if you don’t read book 1 first. My suggestion is that you read book 1, and if you like it to read book 2.


STARS:  3.9 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 stars=Perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

JUDGEMENT: Better than book 1. Read book 1 first, then read this.

Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)


Goodreads

Genres/Tagwords: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Adventure, Adult, YA-ish, Kickass Female Protagonist, Asian Fantasy, Kinda Historical Fiction, Military Fantasy

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

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