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Book Review

Book Cover

The Dragon Republic (Hardback)


Author: R. F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
658 pages
RRP: £16.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 823985 5
Publication Date: 08 August 2019

The Poppy War has end, ended by Rin, but at the cost of uncountable innocent women and children. On the run, fuelled only by her need for vengeance against the Empress, Rin is offered a helping hand by the Dragon Warlord…

The Dragon Republic (2019. 658 pages) is the second book from R. F. Kuang set in her semi fictional world. I say semi, as it is obvious that the story is set in a fictionalised China.

The story centres on Rin, a Shaman, who has internalised a god, the Phoenix, which gives her the power to create fire. This ability extends so far that in the first book she was able to pretty much sink a country. You would think that given her super human powers, and by putting her at the centre of the narrative, that Kuang has placed her there as the heroine, I’m not so sure. This goes to the heart of why Rin is such a compulsive character to read, she is not just flawed, she is pretty much shattered. At the start of book two she is addicted to opium, the only way she feels she can control the god inside and deal with the thousands she killed.

In many ways this makes her a very unsympathetic character. Having been responsible for many decisions which have killed both friends and strangers, we find her in book two wanting to find a place where such decisions and therefore the responsibility and associated guilt, will rest with another. Little wonder then when the Dragon Warlord offers her a place in his army and a position of responsibility she jumps at the chance. When he also adds the fact that she would be fighting to kill the Empress and help establish a democratic republic it seems like they are a perfect fit.

The Rin of book two continues her personality issues. She is rude, stupid, and quick to anger and rarely listens to anyone else. It makes it difficult for the reader to empathise with her. But Rin is a child in pain and one of the pleasures of the second novel is watching Rin go from over reliance on others, whether that is imagined lovers or father figures, to slowly learning to value herself and gain agency in her own life.

One of the interesting aspects of the book, much like George R. R. Martin's work, is that it takes place in a real historical setting, the fictionalised China, with the Federation of Mugen sitting in for Japan. These two countries have an ongoing enmity going back a long time. Even today Chinese people have difficulty in dealing with the brutality used in their last war. It goes some way to explaining why the Muganese are viewed with such hatred.

China has also had to suffer the unwanted attention of the west, especially in the dying days of the Quig Dynasty. The political machinations and direct interference in the country, by Britain, is also reflected in the introduction of the Hesperians, a race of white people interested in getting rights to the opium trade and pushing their monotheistic religion.

The story finally gets as far as the Hinterlands. Here we discover more about the nature of the gods as well as some of the back story of the Empress. Rin and company also, inadvertently discover a new enemy.

Like Martin’s work, all of these large movements forward are accompanied with large layers of politics. Like Rin, we often find it difficult to know who is friend and who is foe and that central dichotomy lies at the very heart of this excellent fantasy novel.


Charles Packer

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