I didn’t even want to read The Dragon Republic. I’d liked The Poppy War (click for review) well enough, although I found the change of tone halfway through to be a bit jarring. Still, I bought The Dragon Republic pretty much as soon as it came out and promptly… never read it.
About a week or so ago, I asked my partner to choose my a book and was somewhat dismayed when this is what he picked. I grudgingly opened it up and… my God, I loved this book.
Plot Summary for The Dragon Republic:
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.
Star Rating for The Dragon Republic: * * * * * (five stars)
Given it had been more than two years since I’d read The Poppy War, I expected to really, really struggle. I’d read a recap, of course, but I remembered it being somewhat difficult to follow at the time, much less 26 months down the line! It shocked me that it wasn’t difficult at all. The recap did help, but The Dragon Republic just generally does a very good job of subtly reintroducing you to the plot and characters.
I was hooked within a few chapters and I read 250 pages of this 658 dense adult fantasy book in one sitting. The book starts right in the middle of the action, as Rin’s elite force is taking on whole villages at a time. It’s gripping, and engrossing, and argh.
My only criticism is Rin herself. She’s frustratingly stubborn. I suspect the author was aiming for ‘strong female character,’ but instead she comes across as petulant and aggressive. You know the type – refuses to accept help, insists she can deal with it on her own, etc. There is some character development, but not as much as for the other characters.
All the other characters were fascinating – Kitay is my favourite, closest followed by Nezha. And Venka. They have all changed so much since Sinegard and it’s borne out by the choices they make. Nezha in particular reveals some interesting aspects of his past that I just didn’t see coming.
The Poppy War was (often gleefully) referred to as brutal with hundreds of trigger warnings, but honestly I didn’t actually find it too bad. The Dragon Republic is probably less gory than the first book, although something happened towards the end which was a particularly brave choice! I love how this series is willing to make the tough choices – whereas obviously I wouldn’t say it’s a realistic book (the presence of magical fire powers sort of prevents that), but it’s true that there’s not always a happy ending.
I cried, I actually cried. I never cry at books. And yet The Dragon Republic makes you so invested in their characters and the outcome that it actually hurts when something bad happens. Which it did. I just cared about everything that happened far more than I did with the first book.
I think this book is just better than The Poppy War. There’s no jarring change of tone in the middle, and I found the characters to be more relatable. They’re flawed, and that just makes them more interesting.
In short, I loved The Dragon Republic and went right on to read The Burning God afterwards. Even if you were just sort of so-so about The Poppy War, I would very much recommend venturing on and picking up this book.
Read my review of The Poppy War, or visit the author’s website here.