Book Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Poppy War

Publisher: Harper Voyager (August 8, 2019)

Length: 560 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

4 stars for The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang, and just barely. This was a good book, but considering how unreservedly I adored The Poppy War, it’s hard not to see this as a slight downgrade. I had a harder time getting into this sequel, for a couple of reasons. First, I think it suffers from a touch of second-book syndrome, and second, perhaps most disappointing of all was that the main character felt like a shadow of herself compared to the previous novel.

But before we start, this review assumes the reader has completed The Poppy War, so beware of possible spoilers for the first book if you are not yet caught up. The Dragon Republic picks up almost immediately following the events at the end of book one, and Rin is barely holding herself together in the aftermath of all the destruction. She also has to come to terms with her devastating power as a shaman of the Phoenix, and the fact that in the light of Alton’s demise, she is now the last Speerly. Drowning the grief and trauma of her losses with the numbing effects of opium, Rin becomes addicted to the drug, and it is severely impacting her ability to lead the Cike, the special squadron of god-touched magic-using individuals placed under her command.

Before long, the Cike are captured by the Dragon Warlord, who presses Rin into his service and orders her to put an end to the traitorous Empress’ rule and help him unite the Nikan empire under one republic. Hungering for vengeance, Rin goes along with the assassination plot, but filled with rage and destabilized by the poppy, she struggles to control the power of the Phoenix. Her growing disillusionment is further complicated by the Warlords’ tactics, and upon witnessing the suffering of Nikara, Rin begins to question her purpose. What is she fighting for, if not to improve the lives of the people?

Yes, Rin has it rough in The Dragon Republic. She’s seen things, done things that have messed her up. Her mind is not all together hers these days, because of the addiction. She’s also angry, confused, full of guilt and resentment. In fact, not one chapter goes by without something to remind us all what a great big ball of angst she is. And let me tell you, it was exasperating as hell. I went from rooting for Rin all the way in The Poppy War to wanting to beat the living shit out of her in this sequel. I get it; our hero had to hit rock bottom in order to gain the insight she needs to rise again, to truly appreciate where she could be and what was possible and all that jazz. I didn’t mind that part. What I did mind, however, was how Rin became a wholly unlikeable brat in this book, completely ruled by her selfish, emotional, and downright violent impulses.

Ironically, The Dragon Republic contains darker and more mature themes, but the overall tone of the book feels more juvenile and childish because of the callow behaviors of its protagonist. Also, for a dead guy, Alton sure seemed to get a lot of page time. While Rin’s admiration and fondness for him was understandable, the story’s constant dwelling on his life and legacy grew tiresome after a while. Ultimately, this bizarre fixation with Alton did nothing to develop Rin’s character, and in fact it did quite the opposite, anchoring her to the past and prolonging the whininess and self-pity.

Thank goodness the second half of the book saved the first half, and that’s no exaggeration. Once Rin started getting her act together, that was when the story finally felt like it was going somewhere. Until that point, we were spinning our wheels, watching her direct her anger at everyone and everything. The character was adrift, which I guess was part of the point, but in turn, that frustration and lack of power also sent the plot into a directionless tailspin type of tedium. But the moment Rin started to care about something more than her problems, everything changed. Even though the disillusionment is still there and as strong as ever, at least our protagonist’s realizations gave her (and the story) a more discernable roadmap.

Other commendable aspects include the development of the supporting cast, when they’re not there just to be abused by Rin. Thing is, the protagonist is so cantankerous in this book that even her foes are sometimes more enjoyable to read about, including the wily Vaisra. Aside from familiar faces like the members of the Cike, Kuang also introduces a few new players and factions. As vile as they are, the appearance of the Hesperians adds an intriguing element to the mix, which is just one of many examples of the author beefing up her world-building. In addition to expanding the history, lore, and cultures of the various nations and their peoples, development also occurs at the character level, with some getting more detailed backstories and important roles. Speaking of which, I loved Kitay. And Nezha? Nezha damn near broke my heart.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed The Dragon Republic, but it didn’t even come close to capturing my attention, imagination and heart the way The Poppy War did. Chalk it up to a slight case of middle book syndrome, or the fact that the protagonist was just too unbearably annoying in this sequel, but overall I have to say the magic was lacking this time around. Still, I have high hopes for the next book. This one was good, but fingers crossed that the next installment will once more elevate this series to fabulously amazing again.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Poppy War (Book 1)

27 Comments on “Book Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang”

  1. Following up on a successful book is never easy, and sometimes here is where authors stumble, as seems to be the case here: I was worried about that and for this reason I kept shuffling this book down the reading queue… That said, I’m glad to lern that the story picks up in the second half, although I’m still somewhat wary of Rin’s portrayal in that first half, since I don’t possess the same level of patience you show for YA antics…
    Thanks for sharing! 😄

    Like

    • Not easy at all, and even though I try to temper expectations, it’s hard when the first book made such a strong impression on me. It’s impossible not to make comparisons, and I’m afraid that there were parts of this book that just didn’t stand up, and Rin’s annoying behavior and attitude definitely played a role.

      Like

  2. You know I’ve only heard really positive things about this series. I don’t know that I will pick them up but that didn’t keep me from grabbing book one on my Kindle when I saw it on sale a few months back. Glad it was such a strong book 2 for you!

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  3. I also prefer Poppy War to Dragon Republic, though both are still amazing! I was less bothered by Rin’s emotional tail spin in the sequel, but I can definitely see how it would be annoying for some. Really, that ending though, stab me in the heart!

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  4. I read the Poppy War and found it pretty fun but not perfect, and the issues you have here are similar to things that I didn’t warm up to in the first one… And the juvenile voices and what would totally irk me… I still want to give this one a try someday though. At least I know to lower my expectations here. Great thorough review as always! 😀

    Like

    • One of the things I loved most about The Poppy War was the growth of the main character, and perhaps that’s why this sequel bothered me so much – Rin seemed to devolve before my eyes in this one, regressing into this whiny, self-absorbed child! Well, if you ever get a chance to get to this one, I’d be curious to see what you think! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can totally see this from your perspective but I don’t think I got second book syndrome at all from this one, for some reason it really worked for me. I admit it did take a little bit of warming up, mainly because as you pointed out Rin was so hard to like, but then I just decided I’m not supposed to like her and things were much more enjoyable after that lol. Sorry it was a downgrade for you!

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    • Yeah, I think if I had accepted the new Rin sooner, I might have enjoyed this one more. But for the first half of the book, she just drove me insane! I’ve dealt with unlikable protagonists in the past and even adored their books, so I don’t know why I had such a hard time warming up to Rin in this one. Probably because I kept comparing to the old Rin in the first book, who was way more endearing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad this picked up a little. I’ve put it down for now. I just don’t think I was in the right frame of mind for the tone but I will pick it back up soon.
    Lynn 😀

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  7. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 01/18/20: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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