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The first book (a trilogy) starts with the story of a young girl from the hinterland arriving, despite predictable disadvantages - a brown skinned Cindarella - at a high-class university where she (again predictably) has to go through the "usual stuff" to prove herself worthy. Then various powers including gods, magic, and evil, white-skinned people from the West turn up, and our heroine has to battle them, too. It all gets bloody - and bloody boring. For a hero/heroine to keep a grip on the reader, he or she ought to show some interesting development, maybe a growing sense of empathy, compassion. Instead, it's all a never ending, bloodshedding fight despite the author's rather unsuccessful attempts at claiming otherwise. I've read all three books; unfortunately, the first is the best... Books like these aren't doing anything good for fantasy literature.
Spoiler alert if you haven’t read my review of The Poppy War yet (which I think you really should) this book is not for the faint of heart. It deals with some gruesome topics and themes, war, genocide, torture, racism, rape it all makes an appearance in one form or another.
That being said, this book or in fact the entire series, should be on your to-read list. The second instalment in this series has confirmed where the true power lies. It’s the characters. Starting with Fang Runin ‘Rin’, she is flawed to the point of frustration. She is naïve and impulsive, quick to anger and shirks responsibility given the chance. Rin leaves the reader frustrated and exasperated, excited and elated, terrified and degraded. She leaps off the pages, becoming a larger than life character who is a real as you and me. Her actions are believable, her inner monologue familiar, her securities understandable. She breaks the confinements of the written world and materializes as someone we have met, have seen, have known in our everyday lives. Minus the obvious ability to call down an all-powerful, all-consuming god that is. And the same is true for the cast of accompanying characters that force us to see this world from different perspectives.
Where the Poppy War swept us up in Rin’s conviction, the justifications of her actions, the classifications of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The Dragon Republic will leave us reeling, wondering if we had it wrong all this time. Questioning if we might have done the same as the Empress if we had been placed in her shoes. It skews our view of who and what to trust until there is nothing left but questions.
Kuang expands on the detailed world she has laid out in the Poppy War. Introducing us to new races, cultures and even utterly believable forms of magic that we could not have imagined previously. This book does not only live up to the expectations that inevitably followed The Poppy War, but it surpasses it. The Dragon Republic is a sequel that you will not be able to put down. Easily thwarting the second instalment syndrome that has plagued so many that came before.