Even though I had some reservations about THE POPPY WAR, I did ultimately end up enjoying it, even if I couldn't quite put my finger on who the target audience was or what it was trying to achieve. I did wonder where the author was going to go from there, since having a book end with your main character committing a grave atrocity is definitely a choice... one that's hard to bounce back from.
As soon as I began THE DRAGON REPUBLIC, my hopes for the book began to sink. As I said in my review of TPW, I really enjoyed Part I and admired the author's ability to show a character who was hard-working but unlikable. Parts II and III were where her characterization began to fragment and it was like she unlearned everything that had made her interesting. That's even more magnified here, where Rin spends the bulk of her narrative shrieking, yelling, insulting people, threatening people, mooning over the man who used to abuse her, and gulping down opium like a stoner with a Slurpee.
I was also really disgusted with how Rin treated everyone around her. Her "friends" were never really her friends and I don't understand why she's being shipped with Nezha now when he was so cruel to her in TPW, or why she's so shocked that Kitay is angry at her after what she did in the first book. They're portrayed as this motley crew of buddies who have each other's backs... but they never did, and it feels like an even bigger ret-con than what S.J. Maas pulled with Rhysand and Feyre. I also really didn't like the racism and misogyny in this book. The racism is intentional, as I think it's meant to show how Westerners were viewed by the Chinese, and how the British used their racist, taxonomical-inspired discrimination to legitimize colonization and oppression, but what Kuang does here just barely scrapes at the surface and, as in the previous book, makes everyone out to be awful in a way that just seems to be done for shock. I also hated how all the women in this book, including Rin, are portrayed. So many reviewers portray Rin as a strong protagonist, but anyone who relies that heavily on threats, emotional manipulation, and drugs, is weak, in my opinion. And that could have been interesting to explore, but it felt like Rin was always getting a free pass for what she was criticizing others for doing (genocide, racism, emotional manipulation, war crimes, etc.), and she was really only strong because all other women in this book were portrayed as spineless victims, noble victims, manipulators, or objects.
Also, to clarify: I understand that psychedelic drugs are a key implement in the religious ceremonies of many religions, and unlike some, my issue was not with their presence in the narrative, but the way that they were used. Rin has developed a chemical dependence, as a result of her guilt and trauma (PTSD), and, again, that could have been interesting, but it wasn't really explored fully and was basically portrayed as a free pass for all of her abusive or manipulative behavior, and I really didn't like that/feel comfortable with that, especially not in a character who is supposed to be so kick-butt and ~awesome~.
At this point, the book kind of feels like a gussied-up YA title with flat, two-dimensional characters that uses its violence to shock and titillate. I could understand the violence in book one being used to show the atrocities of war and how shocking that can be to those who glamorize it, as well as to call attention to the massacre of Nanjing, but I'm really not sure what this book was supposed to accomplish apart from making me despise a character I only found barely-tolerable.
1 out of 5 stars