Is Runin Ready? The Dragon Republic, R. F. Kuang
In The Poppy War, we left Rin reeling from the death of Altan, the ramifications of her choices and actions in the war against the Federation and the destructive unleashing of the Phoenix. She thus vows that she will be the one to control the Phoenix that now inhabits her. But as Rin is to learn, in any interaction with a god, there is always a struggle for autonomy and untangling her desires from those of the Phoenix might prove difficult.
The Dragon Republic opens with Rin in 'charge' of the Cike, on the run from the Empire and in an alliance with a pirate queen. Unbeknownst to Rin, Moag is merely using her to achieve her own ends, and will always choose whatever path is more lucrative for her enterprise. In an attempt to salvage what is left of what is a very tenuous alliance, Rin sets out with the Cike to remove a pilfering captain in Moag's fleet. However, this puts her in the direct path of the Dragon Warlord, who wants to utilize Rin's fire to remake the Empire. His offer to remove the Empress seems too good to be true, but Rin decides to take this opportunity.
Rin is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) and her spiral into opioid addiction is nothing new to soldiers struggling with the after-effects of war and what they had to do. Kuang does a good job of representing the horrors of war and the far-reaching consequences on not only the soldiers, but the people and the land.
The introduction of the Dragon Warlord-Vaisra, gives us a chance to examine Nezha's relationship with his father and elder brother, Jinzha. Warlord Vaisra is a very powerful military leader who commands respect and is very influential. Jinzha is the general of Vaisra's naval fleet and is desperate, when he sets out to attack the capital, not to disappoint his father. His desperation for victory leads him to make rash decisions in his attack on Boyang, leading to the decimation of the fleet. Nezha looks up to his brother and shows utmost deference to his father, and has definitely matured from the arrogant, intolerant young man we met in The Poppy War.
Establishing the Hesperians and their potential involvement in the coming war, gives us a chance to learn more about their societal and political workings and technological advancements. Though their collaboration and participation depend solely on the ability of Vaisra to take the empire's capital. With them, to spread their religion, are missionaries and one in particular is very interested in understanding shamanism. I appreciate the parallels with today's western societies and their history of colonization and religious conquest, evidenced by the disparaging comments made by Sister Petra to Rin about the physical appearance of the Nikarans, their intellectual capacity and their societal construct.
Su Daji, Empress of Nikara, is a very cunning and ruthless ruler and is very determined to keep a hold on the empire that she so treacherously garnered, and seems to either have wholly given herself over to the Vipress or established a true dichotomy with the same goal. But as Rin is to discover, there might be more to Daji's story and how she came to be the woman she is today.
The Ketreyids or Hinterlanders(slur used by Nikarans) are the newest players introduced and seem to have history with the Trifecta. Through her interaction with their leader, Rin is able to glean yet more information that might not have made it into the history books. Which gives her more of an understanding of all the fronts on which the Poppy Wars were fought.
The many evolutions or revolutions of the relationship between Nezha and Rin was very interesting to me and the consequent result of their actions on that relationship, I wish could have been explored more. Kitay had more of a role to play in this book and I enjoyed every second he was on the page. The absolute depth of his learning and his constant need to learn more was a welcome break from all the others who were just interested in the mechanics of war. Bringing Venka back as well was a delight as her acerbic wit and dry remarks were very entertaining. Because of what she had experienced in the previous book, she is far from the spoiled, snide girl we met at Sinegard, and I for love that she is back and can't wait to see how she is utilized in the next book.
Rin learned and lost even more in this book and I think that was very important for where Kuang wants to take her in the next novel. Her determination to see the fall of the line of demarcation between rich and poor has her again on the path of war. This time, she is fighting a war that is bigger than herself.