“Fire and water looked so lovely together. It was a pity they destroyed each other by nature.”AKA the most Rin/Nezha quote ;-;
In my review of The Poppy War, the first book in the series, I wrote I’d move straight onto The Dragon Republic but well, let me just say that I’ve been dreading it a bit. After the traumatic ending of Book 1, I thought I’d brace myself before diving back in and here we are. This was another audiobook read for me and Emily Woo Zeller did yet another masterful job of narrating it, elevating my reading experience about 110%.
Before we get to Rin, there is a prologue detailing Nezha’s childhood which ties really well with his arc and the ending. Read at Midnight is currently doing a reread on their blog and the first post talks about the significance of the prologue, so if you want to know more, definitely check that out.
The Dragon Republic picks up where The Poppy War left off, and Rin is dealing with a lot. Trauma, grief, opium addiction and on top of all that, the ghost of the bloody legacy left to her by Altan is still haunting her. While I was reading, I live-texted the entire journey to my friend who got me into the series and to quote her, because I think she said it best: There is an absolutely guttering symbolism between the two of them, Altan represents a connection to a larger legacy for Rin, a past that gives her an identity, the last bond she has for a potential family meanwhile all Rin means to Altan is a painful, bitter reminder of how his people were slaughtered and he was tortured for who he is, used and manipulated to the point where he was drained and emptied for all he has, all wrapped with a burning, boundless power and Rin thought they could be so good together.
This is only one of the many mountains Rin has to climb before coming even remotely close to forgiveness, but it’s not long before she is hurled headfirst into another war, this time for the seemingly progressive cause of establishing a democracy in Nikan. Once again, The Dragon Republic pulls off shifting loyalties and moral ambiguity so well, as anything that might possibly go wrong… goes wrong. I’m actually awed at how much we’re allowed to know beforehand before it hits and how much that hinges on what Rin knows. If Rin tells me to burn my house down, I will. That’s how much I trust her narration and feel her overbearing emotions even though Rin and reliability are a far cry from each other most times.
Everything is so intense in this book that I forgot they literally freed an out of control wind god in the first book and that was a thing that happened until he showed up for his reckoning. Chaghan and Rin’s bickering was top notch, also I really like that we have canonical evidence of the homoerotic tension between Rin and Daji, every time the Empress was on page Rin’s thoughts went “she threatened my life so sexily”
and she’s right.
Overall, I have such a genuine fondness for this series that Rin will continue to live in my mind rent free well after I read the last installment. The ending of The Dragon Republic utterly broke me, wish I could provide some more nuanced critique but for now, the things I love about this book far outweighs the flaws. My only concern is that I’ll never not compare other adult fantasy books that I read to The Poppy War and disappoint myself from now on. I’m anticipating The Burning God to be even more devastating, and frankly, I can’t wait.