I have been blessed with an ARC of THE BURNING GOD, thank you to Rebecca and publishing royalty Natasha Bardon! But before I dived in I wanted to relive the pains and tribulation of The Dragon Republic. I have read The Poppy War at least 5 times so it’s imprinted into my memory, but The Dragon Republic came out at a busy time in my life and I’ve only read it once.
I know I haven’t been able to complete my The Poppy War reread with you all, but while I read The Dragon Republic I wanted to get my thoughts down.
This post will cover up to chapter 7, including the Prologue, it will contain spoilers for all of The Dragon Republic and The Poppy War so please read those two books first before joining me!
CONTENT WARNINGS: The following chapters contain death of a child, death of a sibling, PTSD, addiction, self-harm, racism, allusion to genocide.
I cannot begin to tell you how excited I was when I realized the book began with a flashback to Nezha’s childhood, as I was half convinced he was dead with the end of The Poppy War. Welcome back my trash-son, we love to hate you and seeing you in the lime light.
Mingzha shouted with delight and splashed into the water. Nezha followed, stooping down to grab his brother’s hand.
We see Nezha with Mingzha and he turns out to be a sweet older brother, something we got a glimpse of in The Poppy War before the random little girl turned out to be a monster. It also implies that while Mingzha was doted upon, Nezha was far from the favoured child of the family. I can imagine how much worse that became when they found out Nezha is involved in Mingzha’s violent demise.
As an aside, Nezha is named for a figure of Asian folk tales, specifically Investiture of the Gods in this case, and his brothers Jinzha and Muzha are also present in the original lore. Nezha’s story was intricately linked with the East Dragon Sea King, and we can see echoes of it in this prologue. Finding these Easter eggs is why I enjoy rereading this series.
I had actually forgotten that the boys were drawn further into the grotto because Mingzha found Vaisra’s coat nearby. This is pretty much iron-clad proof that Rin’s accusation at the end of the book was accurate: Vaisra wanted one of his sons to become a shaman.
We are back with Rin and the Cike, and seeing them now make my heart ache given the tragic end of this novel. One more thing I can never forgive Nezha for.
Rin’s characterization through the first part of this book is grueling and brutal to read, she’s addicted to opium and riddled with grief. She is struggling to live up to the bloody, rage-filled legacy that Altan Trengsin left behind, and it shows in her every thought.
Although the Federation of Mugen is no more, Nikara is haunted by their conquest – seen by the echoes of Golyn Niis and dead corpses that litter the streets, the description in this chapter are bleak and haunting.
Rin threaten to tie Ramsa to the mast because she want to protect him from face-to-face combat, and it makes me want to cry all over again thinking about how he died ensuring her escape.
We learn that they have allied with Moag, the pirate queen of Ankhiluun, against Su Daji. To ensure her cooperation, the Cike have promised the delivery of the heads of her enemies. What I would not give for a spin off short story about how they hunted down one of these, if only to see the Cike in action as a team again.
Rin recounting the talents of the Cike and saying this about her frenemy Chaghan is my favourite thing in this chapter: And Changhan… she wasn’t sure what Changhan did, other than to irritate her at every possible turn.
The Phoenix lived on rage, and rage was intricately tied to the past. So the Phoenix needed to claw apart the open wounds in her mind and set fire to them.
The way that Rin pivots between rage and the blank calm of opium addiction in these chapters? Pure art. The Phoenix is ever present, reminding her of the genocidal act at the end of The Poppy War and thirsting for more.
They weren’t the ferocious beasts of Nikara lore… They loved and laughted and cried around their fires. They were people. But every time, before Rin could sink inot the memory of a heritage she didn’t have…
This is the diaspora feels magnified by a thousand times, Rin is the last Speerly in the world, and her people were brutalised, used, and discarded by both the Mugenese and Nikaran. It’s always too easy to side with Rin.
She was dreadful at leadership. Most of her attack plans over the past three months had boiled down to ‘everyone attack at once and see if we come out all right on the other side’.
Some of Rin’s thoughts as they attempt to assassinate Moag’s final target. Who let this woman lead an entire revolution? I am TERRIFIED for the entire continent in The Burning God.
The chapter ends with Rin setting her site on The Empress. And the way she thinks of her throughout this chapter? With burning fingers wanting to wrap around her neck, with the Empress appearing like ‘a bride on a palanquin of silk’? SAPPHIC ENERGY, forget Nezha, this is the enemy to lover we deserve.
CHAPTER TWO AND THREE
The last time Rin had encountered the Empress Su Daji, she had been…too delirious to see anything by Daji’s face — lovely, hypnotic, with skin like porcelain and eyes like moth’s wing.
Get you a girl who describes you the way Fang Runin describes her mortal enemy.
When she called the godshe couldn’t tell her desire apart from the Phoenix’s; its desire, and her desire, was a death drive that demanded more to feed its fire.
A lot of chapter 2 directly deals with Rin’s PTSD and how she’s trying to mask it. We also see the turmoil between The Phoenix’s hunger for rage, and Rin’s own distinct brand of fury, constantly at war and flaming each other. If anyone was the spite the will of a bloodthirsty god with her own brand of violence though, it will be Fang Runin.
Rin hurts Unegen during her Phoenix fueled frenzy, and its one of Rin’s first brush with hurting the people she care about in this book. Unfortunately, he’s just one in a very long list, a list that is set to grow in The Burning God.
With Chapter 3, we see that a few of the Cike, namely Unegen and Enki, has left the company. I have little doubt we will see them again before the end.
They’re terrified of themselves. It’s very lonely to be a shaman in this Empire, especially when you don’t know when you’re going to lose your mind.
Chaghan said this to Rin, but I can’t help but this of Nezha in this instance as well. Where are my fanfic writers with the AU where shaman Nezha joins the Cike and no one except the people they’re tasked to assassinate dies?
We can’t have a scene between Chaghan and Rin without the specter of Altan Trengsin, the weight of that expectation and their mutual heartbreaks leading to some cruel barbs. It’s painful, but the interactions between Chhaghan and Rin are some of my favourites.
Speaking of favourites: Suni, Baji, and Ramsa? The world does not deserve them! The found family trope is one of my favourites, and seeing this collective of shaman who are brushed aside by Nikara team up despite their differences? Inject that into my veins.
“Because it gets easier every time. Eventually you learn to exist on the precipice of insanity.”
I loved this quite conversation between Baji and Rin, even though it hurts thinking at in the end, she won’t be able to follow his advice.
The end of chapter 3 brings us a pattern, of Rin being haunted by The Phoenix, the memories of Altan, and her addiction to opioid.
CHAPTERS FOUR AND FIVE
The crew is back in Ankhiluun to meet Moag. I am fairly certain she is based on Madame Ching, the Chinese Pirate Queen and the most successful pirate in history. C. B. Lee has a Treasure Island retelling based on her coming out as well, and I cannot wai
So much of this book is set at sea, and the world building of Ankhiluun, the Floating City is impeccable. Trust Kuang to think of the weight limit of the set up as well.
Rin’s tie to Ankhiluun is not only to her tenuous allyship to Moag, but also to the abundance of cheap opium. This makes her both reliant and fearful of the city.
The Lilies were Moag’s private army of terribly attractive women, all with breasts the size of pears and waists so narrow they looked in danger of snapping in half.
Rin’s bisexual energy is showing because she spends at least an entire page describing boobs.
They said she was a prostitute from the bay who’d married one of Ankhiluun’s many pirate captains.
Okay all my doubts are gone, Moag is definitely based on Madame Ching, with more opium.
“You know, for someone of your pedigree, you’re incredibly stupid,”
Moag may be sly but she’s speaking the truth the whole fandom is thinking.
Around the ocean, she was too easily incapacitated. Fire and water didn’t mix.
OOF, here I am just casually dying as I think of the last time a similar quote is used in this book. Rin says she hates naval battle, she’s gonna have a heck of a time in this book. This is basically the Pokémon Sun and Moon of the series.
Rin barters with Moag and get a promise of her own skimmer, along with Kitay’s address, about time as four chapters is far too long to be without my favourite character.
The difference was in his eyes. They used to be so bright, lit up with a feverish curiousity about everything. Now they were blank and dull.
Like Rin, Kitay carries invisible scars from the Third Poppy War. Not least as he witnessed his best friend decimate an entire nation and its people. The relationship I am most invested in throughout this series is the friendship between these two. Even when are are at odds, which they definitely are at the moment.
It’s just like Kitay to be solving tax problems during his house arrest. But that’s the only moment of levity we get for the rest of this chapter, as we learn how deeply affected Kitay is by the war. Part of his loyalty still lies with Sinegard and the world he has grown up with. My heart breaks when we learn he has been burning himself to experience what it’s like to be burned by phoenix fire. The ending of this chapter is just ouch.
Never fear though because with chapter six, we will see the completion of our trio.
CHAPTER FIVE AND SIX
I am not going to dwell too long on Chapter Five as I am itching to get to Chapter Six and its abudance of Nezha content. HE LIVES. For now.
Rin hilariously does not have any semblance of sea-leg, but our girl was meant to thrive among fire and flames. I am noticing that Rebecca went out of her way to name every single vessel that appear in this book, no matter the size, we have to admire that dedication to details.
Battlefields were endlessly entertaining. The ocean was just lonely.
Oh, Rin. I am not sure if most of us would agree her her form of entertainment.
When she closed her eyes she saw Mugen and she saw Speer; the two islands blurred together in her mind, because in all cases the narrative was the same: children going up in flames…
Ahhh, one of the most painful thing about this series is watching humanity never learning from their mistake, as in real life. The cycle of violence and war and what comes of dehumanising an entire race of people.
The Cike bicker and threaten to kill each other, especially when Altan’s name is mentioned. But all of that is cut short when they are attacked by a mysterious enemy ship that seem to know all of their weaknesses as shaman. When they are captured, Rin notes that the warship is unlike anything Nikara could ever build and surmise that these people have direct link to Hesperia. This is the first allusion we have to the Western powers affecting the current events in the book.
He wore a half mask over his face… But it was his tall, lean build that caught her gaze, and his gait: confident, arrogant, like he expected everyone around him to bow before him. She knew that stride.
Enter Nezha, who’s so much of an asshole that he even walks like one. I love him.
The left side of his face was still perfect… but the right side was mottled with scars.
Listen, I knew this boy gave me Zuko vibes which is half the reason why I love him so much, but this look just completes it.
I had intended to end this long post at Chapter Five. But I read Chapter Six and there’s just too much content there for me to rest. Onwards!
“What the fuck?” she screamed.
“Hello to you, too” said Nezha. “I thought you’d be happy to see me.”
Nezha pretending to be measured and calm while Rin rips him apart is the dynamic we love to see.
Rin is off to see the Dragon Warlord, and right away I mistrust Nezha’s eagerness in pleasing his father. We all know where that got us, but the man has more daddy issues than I can convey in a single post.
On the way to meet Vaisra, Nezha tells Rin of his great-grandfather, and ships, and absolutely geeks out over naval detail. I know Rebecca had to cut a lot of the naval military content out of this book, so it’s sweet to see Nezha be her champion for it.
Yin Vaisra was a grown version of his son without the scrs. He posessed all the infuriating beauty of the House of Yin.
Of course Vaisra has to be a DILF. He says Rin is a ‘vulgar diminutive” and that he will call her Runin. I hated him from this point.
“I’m not murdering anyone for you.”
“Dream a little bigger my dear. I want to overthrow the Empire. I’d like your help.”
And just like that Rin is thrust back into another war she will fight for someone else. Vaisra paint the dream of a republic in place of the Empire, “founded on the individual freedom of men”. This directly echoes the path of 20th century Chinese history, like much else in the series, and I wonder if Vaisra is the fictional analog for Sun Yat-Sen.
She didn’t care about anyone’s visions for the future. She’d stopped wanting to be great, to carve out her place in history, a long time ago.
Rin does not buy into Vaisra’s vision, he’s one in a long string of powerful figures who will ultimately disappoint her. She’s also currently a far cry from the girl who said ‘I don’t believe in gods, I believe in power”, and it’s heartbreaking. Vaisra is unfailingly rational in his reasoning though, and I can see where Nezha gets his infuriating self-assured nature from.
She goes back and discuss the terms with the Cike, and they guffaw at the idea of demoncracy.
“It’s worked for the Hesperians,” said Qara.
“Has it?” Baji asked. “Hasn’t the western continent been at war for the past decade.
The book continuously circles around the idea of communism vs western imperialism, and I’m sure we will see it further explored in The Burning God. I often see fantasy books tout democracy as the visionary answer (see the ending of GoT), but we have seen in the real world time and again it’s not all it claims to be, and I love that these books explore that.
“You’re gloating,” Rin accused.
“I would never,” said Nezha. He’d been beaming the entire way down the passage way, showing her around the warship like some ebullient tour guide. “But glad to have you on board.”
“Can’t I be happy? I’ve missed you.”
These two will be the death of me. Look how pleased he is that they are on the same side, because the only side Nezha can ever be on is by the House of Yin. I know it’s his own damn fault she will kill him on sight now, but I can’t help but be shipper trash and feel bad.
We learn that Kitay hasn’t transitioned into the Dragon Republic quite so well, and that he threw food at the Dragon Warlord, displaying that he has both brain and courage and we have no choice but to stan. He also got mad at Nezha for throwing away the his tax ledgers for Ankhiluun, aw.
“The closest thing you had to a family was a suicidal maniac who got himself killed on a mission almost as stupid as this one.”
She could tell he knew he’d crossed the line, even as he said it... Rin hoped for a moment that he might cave, that he’d apologize, but he simply looked away.
She felt a pang in her chest. The Kitay she knew would have apologised.
There it is, the ending of the chapter and my children are fighting and breaking each other’s hearts. I just know Kitay is not going to like where things are headed in The Burning God, and my refusal to start on The Burning God just yet is because I don’t want to see the deterioration of my favourite duo.
That brings me to the end of this already very lengthy post! I hope to have the next one up within two weeks time, but my state has recently gone back into lockdown so work is hectic once more. Let me know what you thought of the beginning of The Dragon Republic, and whether you were as excited as I was to see Nezha grace our pages once more.