Mini-Reviews: The Burning God + A Song of Wraiths and Ruin

Today I’m bringing you two mini-reviews of books I finished at the end of 2020. I’m going to admit right now that I haven’t written a review in 2021, but I better get on this as this is the last series of reviews I have in my drafts. **laughs nervously**

Title: The Burning God
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Burning God, #3
Pages: 654
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: November 17th 2020

**Includes spoilers for The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic**

TW: rape (including child rape), graphic violence, castration, suicide, genocide, drug use, self-harm, cannibalism, human experimentation

      “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?
      The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.

swirl (2)R.F. Kuang’s The Burning God provides a staggering ending to her epic fantasy series, The Poppy War. After being betrayed by someone close to her, Rin has gathered with allies in the south to fight against Federation soldiers who remain in the region even after their country’s defeat. But another battle is on the horizon as Vaisra has declared himself the President of the Nikara Republic and aligned himself with the Hesperians. Rin is determined to rid the Empire of the Hesperians for good, but in order to do so, she will have to align herself with nefarious characters and start a civil war that may spell Nikan’s doom in the end. Kuang has explored many different themes in her series from the trauma of war to Western imperialism. One thing that’s stood out is the uncompromising and sobering tone these books take on. These heavy topics are never romanticized. Her characters continually grapple with decisions they’ve made and no choice is ever simple. This has never been a good vs evil kind of story. It is grim and horrendous at times. Its characters exist in a grey area and they can be both the hero and the villain at the same time. The highlight of this final book is Rin’s relationship with Kitay. She’s relied on him to help her bridge the gap between her and her god, but more importantly he has become her tether to the physical world. Unfortunately Rin’s sole purpose has been to be a weapon, her rise could not have happen outside of war, and it begs the question what becomes of her and those like her who have only ever known how to survive and not necessarily how to live? The Burning God is merciless but a fitting conclusion to one of the most brutal and heart-stopping series I’ve ever read.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Series: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, #1
Pages: 480
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: June 2nd 2020

TW: death of a parent, self-harm

      “For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.
      But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.
      When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?
      The first in an fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.

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Roseanne A. Brown debuts with a luscious fantasy novel, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, which chronicles two desperate characters on a collision course with one another. Malik, along with his sisters, are traveling to Ziran in hopes of finding a better life, but their plans are thwarted by an evil spirit who orders Malik to take the life of Princess Karina or watch his younger sister perish. Karina never got over her father and older sister’s passing. She knows she should never have been heir to her mother’s throne, but fate is nothing if not cruel. When the sultana is murdered before her eyes, Karina is desperate to bring her back, even if it means meddling in dangerous magic that demands she take another’s life. Brown’s world is vibrant and intricate, the magical system is intriguing but the physical world also holds its share of wonders. Karina is an incredibly strong-willed character, bred for the spotlight. She’s brazen and confident, but these characteristics sometimes hide the loneliness she’s experienced in her grief. Malik, on the other hand, shrinks from the spotlight. He’s shy, vulnerable, and struggles with panic attacks. No one looks at him and thinks hero, not even himself, but his strength lies in his love for his sisters and his ability to empathize with those around him. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin‘s unpredictable ending with its many duplicitous characters and shifting dynamics promises a whirlwind of a sequel.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Snapshot Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Dragon Republic
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War, #2
Pages: 654
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: August 6th 2019

TW: mentions of self-harm, suicide, drug use, rape, graphic violence

      “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.
      The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.”

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      “People will seek to use you or destroy you. If you want to live, you must pick a side So do not shirk from war, child. Do not flinch from suffering. When you hear screaming, run toward it.”

  • Rin – Rin is a character who is hard not to root for even when she makes mistakes. She is a child of war whether she chooses to be or not. As the last living Speerly there is a heavy weight on her shoulders. She is constantly torn between grieving for the people she never knew and fighting for the very people who had a hand in their genocide. She is a character continually othered because of colorism, because of prejudice, and because of her power. In the first novel, Rin was just discovering her ability to harness the power of the gods. In this second novel, Rin’s personal journey is more about her understanding who she is apart from this power and reclaiming herself from those who would turn her into a weapon.
  • Heavy Issues – From war to PTSD to drug addiction, Kuang’s series does not shy away from tough topics. War isn’t just about victory but about the people who end up suffering because of it. Rin’s addiction to opium, once a way to help her connect to the gods, becomes a way for her to escape her grief and her guilt. She isn’t the only character who experiences PTSD, and it is sobering to see characters like Kitay, who had such a light in them lose this.
  • Kitay – If there is a characters who has undergone just as many changes as Rin, it is her once-schoolmate, Kitay. Seeing him deal with the loss of a loved one and how this alters who he is is heartbreaking. He was once the softest character in the series, but is driven by vengeance and pain. Those soft edges have hardened and I’m not sure there is a rewind button for him or anyone in this series.
  • Rin and Nezha – I am going to be honest and say I live for their interactions. I love how far they have come from being school rivals to being friends. Their relationship is constantly evolving and I cannot wait to see what happens next between them.
  • Morally grey characters – Kuang does not paint her characters black and white. Much of the time as a reader you can only guess at the true motives of the characters in power. I love both the uncertainty and the layers to every character because of this.

  • Minor characters – As much as I’ve enjoyed Rin’s journey, I do think a bit more time could be spent on a few key minor characters. After the death of their leader, Rin was put in charge of the Cike. This presents a lot of interesting dynamics; however, I don’t think as readers we spend enough time with any of them to feel a real emotional impact when they are put in danger.


If I could describe R.F. Kuang’s series, The Poppy War, in one word it would be epic. The Dragon Republic is just as gut-wretching as its predecessor and sets up what promises to be an explosive finale.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

The Friday 56: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join us every Friday and share an excerpt from a book you’ve been reading.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Be sure to leave a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“It’s not like they can expel the entire class,” Kitay said. “I bet he’s testing us. Seeing if we really want to learn.”

“Or testing us to see how we’ll react around illegal drugs!” Venka shrilled.

“Oh, calm down,” Rin said. “You can’t get high just by touching it.”

Hello, it’s been a while since I posted a Friday 56, but I am hoping to join this meme again on a more regular basis. If I could described R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War in one word it would be intense. This 56 is a far cry from where all these characters end up at the end of the novel. This series has been one of the most heart-wrenching fantasies I’ve ever read. I’m both excited and scared for the final book. Check out my review for this one here. My review for the second book will be going up this weekend. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

From the Goodreads Synopsis:

      “A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
      When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
      But surprises aren’t always good.
      Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
      Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late. “

Snapshot Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Poppy War
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War, #1
Pages: 544
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: May 1st 2018

TW: graphic violence, rape, torture, drug use

      “A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
      When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
      But surprises aren’t always good.
      Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
      For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
      Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.”

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      “Children ceased to be children when you put a sword in their hands. When you taught them to fight a war, then you armed them and put them on the front lines, they were not children anymore. They were soldiers.”

  • Rin – Rin is a special kind of character. The Poppy War takes places over the span of several years. We see Rin as a child, defined by her orphan status. Her foster family is more interested in marrying her off than providing a stable home. We see her as a teen, determined to find a way out of her circumstances and nothing will stand in her way. As a student at Sinegard Academy, Rin is forced once again to push herself, to stretch herself thin in order to succeed. And yet she never breaks. When the Nikara Empire is thrust into another war with the Federation of Mugen, Rin is again pushed to her limits. So much of who she is and who she is becoming is tied to her ability to take things like pain and use them as a means to mold herself into something stronger.
  • School setting – There are a lot of interesting settings in The Poppy War, but readers spend a substantial amount of time at the Sinegard Academy with Rin. The most prestigious academy in the Empire is meant to produce generals and future leaders within the military. It is cut-throat and students are more likely to fail than to succeed. This setting works well on many fronts. On one hand it gives us a glimpse at Rin as a student. We see her grow and face both academic and personal obstacles. It also introduces several key characters who will play important roles going forward. But one of my favorite things about Kuang’s use of this setting is we as readers learn alongside Rin. We are taught Nikara’s history and lore. This method of world-building gives the reader a broader understanding of this universe without feeling like they are getting a huge info dump.
  • History and lore collide – Speaking of history and lore, one of the most exciting things about this world is how history and mythology are so intricately woven together. Rin uncovers a power within herself that indicates that the more fantastical stories of shamans and gods are in fact real. And these folk heroes and villains are not in the past, but are major players in present day.
  • The trauma of warfare – I knew going into the novel that I shouldn’t expect a lighthearted novel, but I wasn’t prepared for how somber this one ended up being. Rin is a war orphan and has suffered many things. But her pain is only the tip of the iceberg. TWs above apply to this section. There is torture, experimentation, genocide, rape. Kuang makes it very clear that there are no victors in war, only survivors. No one is untouched by war and it has not only changed their world, but changed who they were meant to become. Soft characters are few and far between because not many can afford to be in such a harsh world.
  • Power – One of the major themes of The Poppy War is power. Who has it. Who wants it. And how far are they willing to get it. This often ties back to how certain characters experienced the trauma of war. Rin desires power because for so much of her life, she’s been powerless. There are characters who have been bred for war, who’ve been taught power is what makes them worthy of praise. When you combine this with years of pent up anger and justifiable hatred, the result is extremely volatile.

Nothing specific.

The Poppy War is appropriately horrendous and shocking, whose ending left me emotional exhausted. Kuang’s characters are flawed and broken and though you may question their choices, as a reader you understand them.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)