After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
I buddy read this with Leah @LeahsBooks and am going to have to steal her favourite quote to sum up how I felt about this book:
“Darling, fucking what?”
We pick up months after the ending of The Dragon Republic. Rin and Kitay have moved south with the Monkey Warlord intending to raise a southern army to rival the Republic, only things aren’t quite going the way Rin wants. The Monkey Warlord seems more intent on hiding and waiting them out rather than ridding the South of the Muganese and eventually trying to take the country back. But Rin has a score to settle with a boy who deceived her, and she is through taking orders. She will need to fight with both allies and enemies, risk life and limb if she is to rid the country of the Hesperians once and for all, but when the time comes, will she be able to make the final sacrifice.
There are so many things I loved about this book, and a few I didn’t (which I will get to later) but there can be no doubting that it was a brilliant ending to an astounding debut series. Rin fast became a favourite character of mine from her first scenes in The Poppy War, the ultimate anti-heroine, slightly more likely to burn first, ask questions later. The character growth we see in the first two books kind of hits a brick wall in The Burning God, she has rid herself of the idea that she should follow and has instead decided that she is the only one who can lead her Country out of this war. Her bond with Kitay does manage to temper some of her more depraved ideas, but she has a plan and no one will stop her from going through with it. She is one of those characters that terrifies you, but you can’t help but want her to succeed, she has had so much taken from her and she has given up so much of herself for other people, so you almost empathise with her need to destroy everything in her way. There were times in the book that I wanted to reach through the pages and slap her, and there were times when the inevitability of what had to happen made me just think Fuck it… let her burn it down.
The Poppy War series is 100% Rin’s, but Kuang also gives us a whole host of secondary characters that, even though you know better, you fall in love with. I have adored Kitay since book one and have loved following the growth of his relationship with Rin. He is the one person who can claim a little control over her, and only because he is the one person in the world whom she trusts completely. We also get plenty more Venka, who really grew on me after me hating her a little in book one and obviously Nezha, the second boy to break Rin’s heart. But as well as these, we get treated to characters we thought lost and boy did I whoop with joy when they came back into it. There are no truly good characters, every single one had their own little faults and are all different shades of grey which just made them all the more realistic.
The Poppy War as a series is one of those few, magical stories that is part fantasy part historical fiction, and while the obvious Shaman and magical elements clearly make it stand out as fantasy, there is a small part of you that imagines it could be real. That the events of the war happened as they did in the books, and it is a rare talent to get you as the reader that invested in the story that fact and fiction start to blend together. Kuang doesn’t try and take away from the actual atrocities that happened, in fact she is trying, and succeeding to educate us on a part of history that has gone largely forgotten. If you educate yourself on the historical period, it becomes easy to discern between the reality and the invented, but it is incredibly easy to read this as an almost alternative history.
The fact it is based on actual historical events created a whole new depth to the story for me, it made the depravity of it hit me harder, made me get more emotionally invested and it made me realise that Rin, in all her fire wielding, burn it all wisdom, may be the only thing that can save them. Kuang shows the realities of war, the long marches, how ill armoured and under fed people will go to the extremes. This book, the series in fact are not for the faint of heart… I can’t tell you how many times that author mentions peoples stomachs rumbling at the smell of human flesh.
In terms of world building this series is a tour de force, and with The Burning God we get to travel even more of the continent than before, as well as re-visiting some important places from previous books. I love how easily distinguishable the provinces were from one another, not just from the type of people who lived there, but the landscape and the types of crops they grew. Whilst classed as one big culture, Kuang takes her time showing us the subtle differences between the provinces. Whether it is in the way they speak, the colour of their skin, or how they lay their dead to rest. She shows that Rin may be fighting for a whole united continent, but the people who live within couldn’t be more different. Something the Hesperians, who see all who are different then them as lesser, fail to grasp.
Now for why I couldn’t give it 5 stars. I felt that certain parts of the book were unnecessarily rushed, these tended to be the parts of the book that were meant to hold a big emotional impact but, and looking at other reviews, I seem to be in the minority here, I struggled to really get into this book emotionally, whether that’s because we get almost acclimated to the horrors of the first two books. We got a lot of travelling, a lot of scheming and don’t get me wrong, I love those parts. Those are the parts that show the reality of war, the depravity and sometimes the waiting and marching and general day to day drama. But because we get a lot of this, the battle scenes seemed to absolutely fly by, just as you were getting into the scene, just as your emotions are rising and your heart starts to race they just…ended. I’m not sure if it was me, and it might have been, maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind but I just didn’t feel the emotional impact that I had in the previous ones. But I will say, whilst this did let me down, I still absolutely adored the book and series as a whole.
This is a series, and an ending that will stay with me for a long while to come. It is a book that is incredibly hard to talk about without giving away major spoilers, but shows how far one girl is willing to go to save a her people, the journey she has to take to get there and the allies and enemies she meets along the way. It is not a hopeful book, because Rin is not a hopeful character, she isn’t the good guy, the super hero who everyone loves. But she is exactly what the people need, she is the flame that ignites the revolution, and without her, we could have been reading a very different story. I will recommend this series to every one, and it is definitely a series and world that I will return to.