Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Burning God by R.F. Kuang – ARC Review

Thank you to Harper Voyager for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This book was a wild ride and I’m still recovering from this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead. 

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it? 

This book had me terrified the whole time I was reading. I read it in two evenings and I could not put this book down. I wasn’t sure what to expect, all I knew was that I should be afraid for the lives of my favourite characters.

This book starts just after the ending of The Dragon Republic and we see Rin and Kitay having to regroup and figure out what they are going to do after the betrayal they suffered which also resulted in the death of the cike. (I am still not over what happened to my baby Ramsa.) As they are no longer on the side of the powerful they have to learn new ways in which they can defeat their enemies and it was really interesting to see how they had to adapt and how they struggled through that.

Rin goes through a lot in this book and we see her gain more control over the phoenix and channel that into the battles, she also begins to understand that not everything can be done through destruction and Kitay is always there to help and support her. Their friendship and bond is one of my favourite parts of this trilogy. Seeing them both grow together and then becoming linked even more deeply when Kitay becomes her anchor. I just loved them so much, though Kitay is my absolute favourite.

There are some incredibly difficult topics discussed in this book including different forms of trauma and we see Rin struggle with that throughout the book. From having to deal with being treated as lesser because she was a war orphan and has dark skin to dealing with being betrayed and having to watch those she was supposed to lead and protect be killed. She is able to channel all her anger to fighting to save her home but it also comes at a cost.

Another theme that is prevalent in this book is how the Hesperians colonise their land to “improve” it because Rin and her people are clearly inferior. I felt this deep in my soul because we see this so much in our lives and being Pakistani and knowing how the British colonised and destroyed the land made me so angry when reading about it in the book. Especially how when Rin goes to the New City and sees just how much it has been changed by the Hesperians. How they teach the people that they know better and that they are inherently superior, so they have the right to do this. It is scarily accurate to real life. Honestly for me they were the worst villains.

We also finally see the trifecta together and what happened to them and what truly happened to the Speerlys and it is even worse than what we already know. I was shook by everything that went down and then what Rin decided to do once the trifecta were destroyed.

This book has some epic battle scenes especially with Rin and Nezha. There is one scene especially which was written so cinematically with Nezha making it rain and Rin breathing fire and I just love seeing them interact. The dynamics they have where they both love and hate each other. Their banter and the way they fight each other. I just loved it.

And then we have THAT ending. I didn’t know what to expect for a trilogy like this and it utterly broke me. I don’t think I will ever be over that ending.

This trilogy is dark and brutal but I love it so much. With characters that you want to root for despite the awful things they have done and everyone is morally grey. Characters driven by power and revenge and willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. I haven’t read a trilogy quite like this and I highly recommend it.

Adult Books, Diverse Books

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

I was a complete wreck after finishing this book but wow I loved it. Clearly I like to torture myself. Here is my review of The Poppy War. This review will contain spoilers for the first book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

Once again please check trigger warnings before reading this book. There are discussions of rape, death, torture, colourism, racism, substance abuse, self harm, suicide

I listened to the audiobook which I loved so much, the narrator is really great and has you completely hooked. If you enjoy audiobooks I definitely recommend listening to this one.

Rebecca really came for my heart in this book and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. This isn’t a trilogy for someone who is looking to escape into a fantasy world, this is steeped in real history and Rebecca doesn’t hold back from sharing how dark the world can be. While there isn’t a chapter which is like chapter 21 of The Poppy War, it is still difficult and uncomfortable to read at times and it should be.

I knew going into this book that I should not get attached to any character because Rebecca is ruthless and yet I found myself wanting to keep Ramsa and Kitay safe and away from harm. Thesse two became my favourite characters in this book and I was terrified for them and honestly Rebecca really does make them all suffer so I was rightfully terrified. The cike are such an interesting group of characters because they are all misfits and yet Altan was able to keep them somewhat united. However once Rin is made Commander things start to fall apart. Rin may be a powerful shaman but she is no Commander and I felt for the cike who fell apart under her leadership.

Rin is immensely powerful and reckless and those two combinations make her volatile and a danger to those around her. She continues to be reckless throughout this book, jumping before really thinkinga bout the situation and implications and I just wanted to shake her and tell her to really think about things for a minute. She struggles with what she did at the end of The Poppy War but I’m glad that her actions aren’t justified to the reader. She tries not to think about, taking opium to drown out her thoughts and also to not think about Altan and her complicated feelings regarding him and what happened. Basically throughout most of the book she is a mess and that’s why it takes her so long to understand what is happening and results in THAT ending.

Kitay is still my favourite and the only one who can make Rin see reason and with him she is able to better strategize. One of my favourite scenes is when he builds Rin wings, in one week I might add, to help her battle the wind god. He is the single voice of reason amongst all these morally grey people and I hope that Rebecca has some mercy on my heart and doesn’t make him suffer too much in the last book.

Nezha is the character I went from hating to liking to loving to hating again. I was a mess. This man really needs to get it together and decide which side he’s on. I was SO MAD at him by the end of the book and I really want him to get his ass kicked by Rin. I have mixed feelings towards him and I’m honestly not sure whether he will be able to redeem himself after what he did but then again practically everyone in this book has done some really problematic things. We also get to learn more about him and his background and family which was interesting to see. I really hate his parents and how his dad manipulates everyone to his own advantage and own ulterior motives while acting like he’s doing this on behalf of the people.

The Hesperians who come from the west were awful too. They thought they were superior just because they were born in the west and I really hated how they believed they could “fix” Rin and the other shamans. The way they treat those who they believe to be inferior was horrible and I am worried about how much damage they will do in the last book after causing that destruction

This is a book that had me reading into the early hours of the morning because once it starts it does not stop and I just could not stop listening to the audiobook. I really loved this book and I am looing forward to reading The Burning God and by looking forward I mean dying from pain.

Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – Book Review

This book was so good but omg it was so dark and one chapter in particular was really difficult to read, but I loved it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Before I share more I would recommend checking all the trigger warnings: racism, war crimes, genocide, abuse, animal death, animal cruelty, substance addiction and abuse, self harm, bullying, brutal torture, mutilation and murder, brutal rape (off screen but described), experimentation on people against their will, graphic descriptions of death of babies and children.

I listened to the audiobook which was really engaging and kept me hooked but also meant that, I could not skip some of the more graphic descriptions of some of the really dark themes. So please be aware of this before deciding to read or listen to the book.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” “You’re so young,” he said softly. “You have no idea.”

How do I describe this book? It left me in a reading slump because I just could not stop thinking about this book and that ending because OH MY GOD what was that ending?! The events in this book slowly got worse and worse and Rin’s spiral to wanting power was truly something to behold. This book is very dark and has lots of dark themes and doesn’t hold back from showing these in the book. But I really loved it.

The book begins with Rin, despite all odds, being accepted to study in the most prestigious school but she quickly finds that her being able to get in the school doesn’t mean she will be accepted by her peers. There is discussions of class divides where the rich continue to prosper at the expense of the poor and how their privilege and wealth gives them that extra boost to get ahead in life. I really loved seeing all that in the book.

War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.

The story continues to Rin and her classmates being drafted in the war that has erupted around them and Rin must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for the power the gods are willing to give her. Despite being warned against it by her teacher she accepts that power. She is someone who was always told that she was lesser because she was a poor orphan so the power is very tempting to her. I really loved watching Rin grow and change and how the events of the book influence her decisions along with the people in her life.

This book is full of morally grey characters who often have to choose between two bad choices and deal with the consequences of their choices and actions. Terrible things happen throughout the book that not only affects the main cast of characters but also everyone else in the world and it was really interesting to read a story where there is no clear cut hero/villain because they all do terrible things. There was however a particular chapter that was incredibly difficult to read and I had to stop for a few days before continuing.

This book is action packed from the beginning and takes you on a wild ride. You can see the characters are spiraling and you can’t stop them but you also can’t look away. Just incredible storytelling and worldbuilding. I loved Rin and Altan and Jiang who had such interesting stories that were intertwined together. Altan has an especially tragic story and my heart broke for him. I loved seeing his and Rin’s relationship develop and change and they were both in difficult situations but I was really rooting for them.

“They were monsters!” Rin shrieked. “They were not human!” “Have you ever considered” he said slowly “that that was exactly what they thought of us?”

Kitay was the only voice of reason in Rin’s spiral and honestly I felt terrified for him throughout the story, he is a cinnamon roll and must be protected at all costs. I loved his friendship with Rin and how he supported her when no one else would and told her the truth and tried to make her see reason. I am terrified of what could happen to him in the next two books. I really didn’t like Nezha, he was a privileged spoiled brat used to getting his way and bullied Rin because she didn’t bow to his greatness like the rest but later as they got older and had to put aside their school feud they actually worked really well together and became tentative friends. I am interested to see where this relationship goes.

I am simultaneously excited and terrified to start The Dragon Republic because no matter how bad this book got I feel it can get worse and I am terrified for the lives of my faves. I would recommend this book to anyone who is okay with being able to read the book after checking the trigger warnings. There were some incredibly important poignant discussions of colonialism and genocide and what it means to have power.