The Dragon Republic is R. F. Kuang’s second book in her Poppy War trilogy. We follow the young shaman and soldier named Rin, along with her various friends and enemies. As expected, this book deals with the military and political fallout of book one (The Poppy War). Drawn in by a classmate’s warlord father, Rin and her crew contribute to more battles wrought by the earlier book’s activities. I’m glad I returned to the complex world of Nikara, the Federation of Mugen, and their provincial wrangling without delay.
On the whole, this is a book about military activity. Kuang manages to keep the plot moving forward, but it’s driven mostly by big events, not small character changes. Alternately, Rin still needs to get better control of her fire-related shamanic powers. Those story arcs help balance the less personal, over-arching periods of battle strategy and execution.
And, as always, Rin deals with imposter syndrome. She doesn’t feel worthy, and those who think she might be capable only want to use her powers to benefit their political ends. I appreciate the conundrum of being the small cog in the bigger machine who might be the center of the whole complicated endeavor. That cog must believe they have power, which Rin struggles to see.
The Dragon Republic is a solid sophomore attempt by Kuang. As with The Poppy War, she balances the supernatural, the political, and the personal. Rin and her compatriots grow more mature, mostly because they face tough decisions and plenty of personal risks. Most characters also have struggles with family, whether living or dead, which offers a relatable plotline amongst the considerable fantasy.
Unfortunately, this book didn’t read very quickly. It’s thick with details that slowed it down for me. Rin’s likability is the primary reason I persisted. Kuang makes me care about her, despite my overall frustration with the battle-heavy plot.
However, if you love epic fantasy that focuses on a fight for control of a large, divided kingdom, The Dragon Republic fits the bill. I definitely appreciate books with plenty of political wrangling. This had just enough of that (separate from battle scenes) to keep me involved.
As with The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic is an epic fantasy with strong Asian history and folklore underpinnings. I recommend the series for its quality writing and strong world-building.