Book Review

The Burning God by R.F. Kuang

The Burning God is the final novel in The Poppy War series. This series is the first one I have read for a while and it makes me wonder why I have neglected series for so long. I was nervous to read this book – not because I didn’t think it world live up to my expectations, but because I had grown so attached to these characters that I didn’t want to say goodbye to them.

CW: sexual assault, violence, drug use

Following the events of The Dragon Republic, Rin is once again on the run after being, both literally and figuratively, stabbed in the back. Unsure of who or where to turn to next, Rin decides to go back to Tikany, to her roots. Realising who truly has the power to turn this war, Rin uses every weapon and lesson she has learned over the last few years determined to defeat the Dragon Republic. However, will all this be enough? Or will she become consumed by the overwhelming compulsion of the Phoenix to destroy the land and the people she has been trying to save?

Being the last novel in the series, I feel that here we truly see the real people that our characters are. We especially see how negatively the events of the past two novels have impacted Rin. When I first read The Poppy War, one of the things which struck me the most was how complex Rin was and how she didn’t feel like the traditional hero. Therefore, I was really pleased to see that this continued into the final novel, there were several instances where I didn’t even know if I should be rooting for Rin at all. We also saw more of Kitay’s internal conflict over her decisions too, which further cemented him as my favourite character in the series. Speaking of favourite characters, I was also pleased to see the return of one of my favourites from the first book, albeit in a very different light to how they were presented in The Poppy War. In order to avoid spoilers I wont say anymore on it, but just know I was thrilled to see them and I have a feeling you will be too! Even if their reappearance didn’t feel long enough for me (but I am greedy when it comes to characters). 

As I mentioned, there were times where I was unsure whether I should be supporting Rin, there were moments where it was very obvious one way or another but then there were a lot of moments where it wasn’t as black and white. For me this further illustrated how wonderful Kuang is as a writer as it accurately portrayed war. This series is based on the real war of China, Japan and Korea, however, despite this I had no idea how it would end, especially for these characters. Every time I thought I knew where the book was heading, Kuang managed to throw something in to completely throw me off and keep me hooked (and in tears). What I also enjoyed about this novel was the way it tackled the fact that there is more to war than simply winning or losing it – there is then the matter of figuring out how best to govern, which is something that Kuang wove wonderfully into the plot. Not only did it give additional insight into what the characters were fighting for, but it also reminded the reader that, even though this is the final novel, there is still a future for this world.

I am genuinely at a loss now that the series is finished, I have really come to love these characters and it’s a very bittersweet feeling now that the series is over. However, I am very excited to see where Kuang goes next, her writing style is just so brilliant and unique that I hope to read more of it for years to come!

If you want to learn more about the parallels The Poppy War series draws from East Asian history, Read by Tiffany wrote a brilliantly detailed blog post going through all the ways The Poppy War series can be read – which I highly recommend you check out!

Rating: 4 out of 5.
www.blackwells.co.uk

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