It’s time to revive my reread of The Poppy War, I just recently received an eARC of The Dragon Republic and wanted this reread series written and published before my mind gets the two novels mixed up and inadvertently spoil you!
Reminder that these posts will contain spoilers for the ENTIRE book. If you haven’t finished reading The Poppy War yet, feel free to check back when you are done.
The chapter begins with the rough patch between Jiang and Rin after her refusal to study Lore at the end of last chapter.
Jiang was unpredictable and fragile, like an easily startled wild animal, and she hadn’t realized how precious his attention was until she had scared him away.
And yet she continues to break his heart until the bitter end of this novel. Why, Rin?
Rin doesn’t have time to patch things up with Jiang as the Trials are looming. Ahhh, the days when Rin’s biggest worries were failing the exams and being kicked out of Sinegard Academy. Those were Good Times.
The apprentices are keeping betting books on who will triumph during the Trials. I forgot that Venka was considered a solid contender in the Academy. My heart can’t take this after chapter 21.
Kitay had his fair share of supporters, although this was largely because he had demonstrated a talent for dodging so well that most of his sparring opponents grew frustrated and got sloppy after several long minutes.
I’m praying that Kitay will keep the same energy and live through the entire trilogy, please and thank you.
“I wonder how you people do it,” Kitay mused. “You know, actually having to try to remember things. Your lives sound so difficult.”
How Kitay and his eidetic memory survived the first year in an Academy of budding killers is the real mystery of this novel.
I am also consistently surprised whenever I get reminded that Nezha was an absolute menace in his years at the Academy.
Displaying a stunning lack of sympathy, the apprentices had also taken advantage of the first-years’ anxiety to establish a flourishing market in “study aids.”
This 100% happened at my university, and I heard the weChat market for study aids is still extremely lucrative.
I love this exam cramming sequence, it captures the nervous energy of my University day perfectly. Also, Kitay is on fire with his wise-cracks in this chapter, I think this was around the time he became my favourite in this book.
Rin then stumbles onto Altan training one day:
She couldn’t look away. From a distance, he was extraordinarily beautiful. Up close, he was hypnotizing.
As always, the thirst is consistent. We can always count on our girl Rin.
Altan’s voice was surprisingly melodious, soft and deep.
Even his damn voice was perfect?! The world isn’t fair.
“You must be quite the student, if Jiang’s taken an interest in you.”
Was that bitterness in his voice, or was she imagining things?
What I would not give to put Jiang, Rin, and Altan in a room together and have them hash out all of their student-teacher angst.
Rin is flying through the oral assessments with flying colours, only to be interrupted by Master Yim’s question about the end of the Second Poppy War. The loss of Speer and the consuming rage it incites in Rin later on was introduced so innocuously at first.
Jiang then randomly comes in with a question about the Chuluu Korikh, the first mention of it in this novel. It seems interesting that the other Masters were uncomfortable with this topic, I wonder what is the extent of knowledge of shamanism among the Militia. The Chuluu Korikh and Kukhonin mountain ranges appear to be based on Kunlun Shan.
The tournament commenced shortly after, with Rin beating Han during her first match up. Kitay was the only one to clap for her victory, I love their friendship so much – it makes the ending of this book all the harder to swallow.
The one advantage Rin had was that Venka never fought with an injury.
During Rin’s matchup with Venka, we find out that no one was willing to hit the latter during training – not even Nezha. The war really did not discriminate on classes. I do hope we will see her in The Dragon Republic.
Alone among Nezha’s opponents, Kitay emerged from his bout unharmed. He had lasted a minute and a half before surrendering.
Chen Kitay: the only person with an intact sense of self preservation and survival instinct in this entire book.
Although Rin could surrender to Nezha and still have a line of Masters waiting to bid on her, she does not relent because:
It wasn’t about the bids now, it was about pride. It was about power.
Rin’s boner for power will never stop getting to me.
Nezha was taking her seriously, Rin realized. He took her as an equal.
For some reason, this made her fiercely proud.
Rivals and enemies who respects each other? I’ll never get sick of it. This is why I love the dynamic between these two so much.
Although that quickly breaks down when Nezha slaps her during the fight. Unbeknown to Rin, she has her first experience with The Phoenix and brush with the power of Speerlies. Her power is intimately linked with rage, and Rin’s foremost goal is power – we can all see how this will end badly.
In that instant, she had felt as if she could defeat anyone. Kill anything. She wanted that power again.
Rin makes a bid to join Jiang and learn how to harness her power. He warns her with a cautionary tale about Altan and his capacity for bloodlust and violence. Although she vehemently denies the similarities between them, Jiang can see through it.
“You are precisely the same. You’re too reckless. You hold grudges, you cultivate your rage and let it explode.”
I wonder how much of the inner rage common to Altan and Rin is built upon generational trauma from the oppression and subsequent genocide of their entire race.
Jiang is desperate to keep Rin away from the clutches of the Empire and Su Daji, they have already began using Altan as a weapon – exploiting Speerlies is a bad habit Nikara cannot shake.
There’s at least a happy ending in this chapter when Rin pledges Lore.
After their gruelling assessment, the students of Sinegard Academy get to on on summer vacation for a grand total of four days. I loved seeing Rin and Kitay explore Sinegard in this chapter, as well as learning a bit more about Kitay’s background.
For the first time since she arrived in Sinegard, she felt as if she belonged there… She had not rested like this in a long time.
Chapter 8 is the happiest chapter in this entire novel. Possibly in this entire trilogy. Please treasure it.
Kitay’s family residence is within the Jade District, which to Rin’s surprise is a farcry from the messy bustling of the rest of Sinegard.
The Chen family owns several white dogs, all named after Nikara’s great rulers. Protect this family.
Talk turns to Kitay’s father, who is the Defense Minister. He is currently away dealing with the City Guard. We hear of the Red Junk Opera once more:
Mostly dead. You can’t kill a movement. Somewhere out there, some religious lunatics are intent on killing the Empress.
And Rin will soon enough join the ranks.
Kitay could afford to be victimised by the city because he had room to fail.
As someone who was raised into believing I had no room for failure, I felt this in my very soul.
Rin ponders the difference between herself and Kitay, as the latter was born into privilege and power. It steels her resolve to carve a permanent place for herself in Sinegard through excelling in the Academy. Life and Rebecca has other plans for her though, sorry Rin.
Rin and Kitay stumbles upon a shadow-puppet play recounting the more mythic elements of Second Poppy War, especially the background of the Trifecta. The Warrior who became the Dragon Emperor. The Vipress who still reigns over Nikara as Su Daji. And The Gatekeeper, who is lost to legends – but who we all know is Jiang. I am desperate for more information about this age.
Despite the possession of divine power, the Trifecta could not defeat the Federation on their own – instead relying on the sacrifice of Speer and the aid of the Republic of Hesperia. Undoubtedly, history will repeat itself during the Third Poppy War in The Dragon Republic.
Although the Militia was technically under the Empress’s control, its twelve divisions drew soldiers largely from their home provinces and lay under the direct command of the provincial Warlords. And provincial relationships had never been good.
I love how much groundwork went into this book to lead up to the eventual civil war in Nikara. I am dying to read The Dragon Republic, but I will finish this reread first.
Kitay and Rin debate over the existence of shamanism, Rin comes in with my favourite line from the book:
“I don’t believe in gods, but I believe in power.”
The reason why I love the magic system in this book is largely due to the question about mortal agency and ambition VS divine will. The Phoenix and Rin has a contentious relationship from the get-go, and I believe that if there’s anyone who will try to wrest power from deities, it will be our heroine.
“One might say you’ve been obsessed with Nezha.”
“Don’t be disgusting.”
“You are. You’re always asking me about him.”
“Because I’m curious, Sunzi says to know your enemy.”
“Fuck Sunzi, You just think he’s pretty.”
Can Rin be attracted to anyone without also wanting to murder them? Jury’s still out.
Rin and Kitay shares some personal background with each other, their siblings, Kitay’s dashed dream of becoming a Yuelu Mountain scholar. I really love these two so much, please let their friendship survive this series.
During the Summer Festival parade, Rin and Kitay bumps into Nezha and the rest of the ridiculously beautiful Yin family. Kitay remarks on the Dragon Warlord’s absence, the first inkling the readers get of the tenuous relationship between the Warlord and Su Daji.
She was without question the most beautiful woman Rin had ever seen.
Rin legit spends three pages describing how gorgeous Su Daji is. We stan a bisexual icon.
She would have torn apart kingdoms for this woman. She would have followed her to the gates of hell and back. This was her ruler. This was whom she was meant to serve.
There’s the sound of my beloved Rin/Nezha ship sinking. Also the sound of my next favourite F/F enemies-lovers dynamic. I cannot WAIT to read The Dragon Republic.