the burning god – r.f. kuang | arc review + spoiler section (i am crying)

The Burning God by R.F. Kuang


Series: The Poppy War #3
Published November 17th 2020 by Harper Voyager
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, War, Grimdark
Rep: author of color, POC cast (chinese & japanese-inspired)

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

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? 

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disclaimer: this review might consist spoilers for the poppy war and the dragon republic. also, thank you to Harper Voyager for the arc in exchange for an honest review.

trigger and content warnings:
  • colonisation, death, racism, colorism, assault, mention of rape, animal abuse, mention of being buried alive, PTSD, drug use and addiction, self-harm, captivity, panic attacks, cannibalism, mention of human experimentation, starvation, famine

The Burning God was filled with moments of betrayal, enlightenment, and walking. So much walking and travelling and deaths. It was about how Rin and the rest tried to counter the imbalance in power dynamics that favoured the Republic and the Hesperian allies. The numerous downward spirals and the ingenious plans to rise up once again were planned well.

Since the trilogy is heavily inspired by historical events, it’s important to know the context. Tiffany @readbytiffany has written a stunning, informative post on the historical influences and Chinese culture in The Poppy War trilogy.

A testament to R.F. Kuang’s maturity in her writing style is how she masterfully developed every single moment in the book. Even when Rin’s army was trekking or walking for miles, different problems cropped up ranging from the treacherous terrain to continuous change in weather to the decrease in morale. Each character’s fluctuating emotions and feelings were witnessed by the readers. The disapproval from Kitay whenever something controversial was mentioned, the glee Rin felt whenever she raised hell, the fear everyone had while on the battlefields, even the tiredness heard in Nezha’s voice. The Nikara Empire’s landscape developed further as Rin travelled to different places.

“And if southerners were dirt like all the legends said, then they would crush their enemies with the overwhelming force of the earth until they could only dream of breathing. They would bury them with their bodies. They would drown them in their blood.”

I like Rin, I really do but she needs to shut up and listen to other people’s ideas and see things in their perspectives once in a while. Her stubbornness often prevents her from understanding where others are coming from. Having the powers of a fiery goddess didn’t help either. For majority of the first part, Rin’s inexperience in real-time commandeering an army and her inflexible military strategic thinking were spotlighted.

Rin strives on chaos. She prefers instant gratification rather than flirting with success. She would rather meet force with force than find alternatively longer ways that would result in a higher rate of success. Not only that, Rin feels euphoria and the rush of power so vividly every time she invokes the Phoenix. Her desire and lust for power is going to devour her. This dangerous feeling puts me on the edge of my seat. Who knows what would be her tipping point, the last straw? As much as it scares me, her unpredictability is what made her interesting.

“It doesn’t go away. It never will. But when it hurts, lean into it. It’s so much harder to stay alive. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to live. It means you’re brave.”

As always, Kitay balances Rin’s ruthlessness and brashness in every way. He questioned every decision Rin made, provided counterarguments and made sure Rin didn’t end up making dire mistakes. He’s the voice of reason and the one with the most moral codes. Most importantly, he was with Rin every step of the way. Their friendship grew stronger, and it’s obvious that they love each other. Between Rin and Kitay, there is a strong platonic bond. They exchange words of love and affection freely too which I thought were quite rare in books.

With war, especially accompanied with outside “allies”, local history and cultures were erased within a short period of time. The Empire changed under colonisation and occupation of the Hesperian. The most startling and obvious change was when Rin made a secret trip to the “New City”. Everything that was once Nikaran disappeared. The city became Hesperian’s version. Nothing authentic or traditional to the Nikaran land stood. Other smaller places changed gradually but there were already signs of influence.

“The tides of history had shifted. She had never before believed in fate, but this she came to know with more and more certainty as each day passed: the script of the world was now wholly, inalterably colored by a brilliant crimson streak.”

Finally, I would like to thank R.F. Kuang for this amazing trilogy. These three books were bold statements about the atrocities of war and the various types of trauma that plagued the people. Certain things aren’t meant to be said delicately and though there were some truly horrifying scenes, the nuances of war were aptly described. It left me breathless. R.F. Kuang’s an inspiration. I will be dreaming for books that brought me this level of pain yet made me love it even more.

🖤. spoiler section .🖤

watching rin and kitay make decisions blindly because they seriously had no idea how they can win the war against the hesperian and the republic. how could they come out victorious against the might of gigantic aircrafts that could transport large amount of ammunitions and soldiers with ease? surrendering isn’t a question but what else can they do? well.. rin created more shaman. I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT.

every time souji lectures them about how conventional warfare methods that they learned in the sinegard aren’t of use anymore, i can’t help but be glad that they had someone like that on their side. if not, rin and the rest would have just went with brute force and hoped for the best. it’s interesting to see how tactics changed when your position in the war changed. now that they’re the underdog, fighting with less advanced technology and lesser people, things need to change.

jiang and daji released riga from his comatose, and he was a horrible, abusive piece of shit. he showed rin the true story of how speer was entirely destroyed; because of him. he treated jiang and daji with contempt and anger. his presence is daunting and pressurising. even the two that were supposed to be his equals are terrified of riga. one thing that i had been dying for was finding out more about the trifecta and how they had influenced the previous poppy wars. with the prophecy of “One will die, one will rule, and one will sleep for eternity”, there was no knowing what will happen. it’s all a mystery. i’m glad that while the world is burning, i still got to know the dynamic amongst the trifecta.

chapter 21: the next thing i knew, rin simultaneously got rid of two-thirds of the hesperian fleet and the trifecta. i couldn’t believe what i was reading. wtf??? i didn’t even believe that they were actually dead until the moment chaghan told her that he felt the trifecta pass on. WTF??!!! that’s some freaking insane chess move rin did there. (i’ll probably still be repeating this moment for the rest of my life.)

why, r.f. kuang, did you have to create the possibility that venka might be a traitor??? WHYYYYYY!!! i really liked her. and she died while trying to save rin from an assassin. but the question still lingers in the air??! FUUUUCK.

i cried at the end. there’s no way i can heal from this pain. the crumbling confidence both kitay and rin experienced after witnessing how the war had inevitably destroyed lives of many innocent people. the mountainous to-do list that never seem to diminish regardless of how much they achieved within a day. kitay following her willingly to die broke my soul. the fact that both rin and kitay are gone is incomprehensible.

the scenes with nezha got me crying because i got reminded how young they actually are. how solid rin and kitay’s friendship is, and the willingness to die despite having lived to conquer back their homelands. the ending is bittersweet because the fate of the empire still hangs on a balance. will it be under nezha’s rule, and if so, will he just be a puppet controlled by the hesperian? and nezha’s comment about how they left him behind utterly shattered my heart.

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