It wasn’t long after finishing The Poppy War that I was veritably clamoring for the sequel, and so when it showed up on NetGalley I happily requested it, and then gently and patiently waited until a little bit closer to the release date. I’ve had this badboy staring at me from the kindle since March!
Thanks to the author, as well as Harper Voyager via NetGalley for the review copy!
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.
“You know the one thing that all the great strategists agree upon? It actually doesn’t matter what numbers you have. It doesn’t matter how good your models are, or how brilliant your strategies are. The world is chaotic and war is fundamentally unpredictable and at the end of the day you don’t know who will be the last man standing. You don’t know anything going into a battle. You only know the stakes.”
This is the continuing story of Fang Runin, after the… uh… the events of The Poppy War (I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers here). Rin is having a bit of a tough time with her shamanic powers, that of the Phoenix, one of the many, many gods of her people. She has the ability to call up fire, but with a god screaming in her head for the power to do it… well… it’s a bit difficult to not go a bit insane. Or, instead, to do what a great deal of people like her do to shut off most of their higher functions: opium.
The first part of this novel deals pretty heavily with drug abuse and recovery, and it was often times difficult to read, in that I have known people with drug problems, and so I truly felt for Rin here, as I have felt before for others.
The writing was fantastic. All kinds of twists and turns and ups and downs happened throughout this one, and I didn’t see most of them coming, but I ultimately sat glued to my seat much of the time. Although it took me a little more time to read than other books have lately, when I got to reading it, I was immersed and on the edge of my seat for most of my time with it. Kuang really knows how to ramp up the action and intrigue. This was a very difficult book to have to put down. Reading it when I was short on time/in a waiting room/on my lunch break was sometimes frustrating when my free time ended and I had to put it away.
The last quarter of this book was an absolute rollercoaster though. There wasn’t enough free time in the universe for how much I wanted to gobble it all down in one go. So good. Dat ending though. 😭😭😭😭😭
We got to see a few characters a little more closely, such as Nezha and Kitay, and I enjoyed that because I really liked them as characters throughout The Poppy War as well. We also get to see a little more closely into Chaghan and Qara’s people, and the nature of the bond between them, which was interesting. I loved some of the banter in this one too, usually between Kitay and Rin or Baji and… anyone, really. Rin and her relationship with both her peers and her powers was the driving force of this one for me though. Rin oftentimes makes rash decisions, and those decisions backfire realistically from time to time. There were times where I wanted to just say ‘Rin. No, that’s… no. Just no.’ at her. She is a protagonist who isn’t infallible, and I like that in a protagonist.
So, all told, I absolutely loved this one, as I did the book before it, even when they hurt my feels (maybe especially then). At times, it deals with really tough subject matter, and it gets dark AF on the regular, but then, this book is inspired by actual history, and war, famine, drug abuse are a huge part of that history. You can see a lot of real life in this particular fantasy, which hit me right in all of my feelings, and that, to me, means stellar writing. 4.5/5 stars!