Welcome to my review of The Burning God, the legendary conclusion to The Poppy War trilogy! This is spoiler-free for The Burning God, but there are spoilers for The Burning God so beware!
➸ dark fantasy
➸ last in trilogy
➸ published in 2020
➸ content warnings: death, cannibalism, violence, gore, abuse, torture, rape
☆ atmosphere: 5
☆ writing style: 5
☆ pacing: 4
☆ characters: 5
☆ plot: 5
☆ enjoyability: 5
☆ insightfulness: 5
The Dragon Republic was my favourite book for 2020 as I said in my favourites post, so my expectations were insanely high for The Burning God. Luckily, it completely surpassed my expectations and delivered on a thrilling and devastating end to The Poppy War series. My feelings toward this book can be summed up with this quote:
It said, Do it. Take what you want, it said. I’ll hate you for it. But I’ll love you forever. I can’t help but love you. Ruin me, ruin us, and I’ll let you.
We continue Rin’s mission at the end of The Dragon Republic to lead the South into war with Vaisra, Nezha and the Hesperians. Her new elevation to leadership allows us an insight into the true concerns of a leader – not just the intricacies of battle, but also ensuring the loyalty and morale of subjects, limiting the damage to civilians and accepting the long-term costs of both losses and wins. Rin continues to learn and grow throughout the book, but not necessarily for the better! We go deeper into Rin’s psyche than ever before, and discover her alarming and growing lust for chaos and power. The historical parallels are even more apparent in The Burning God, especially Rin’s characterisation as Mao Zedong and the way she rises to power (like The Long March). However, the story is by no means predictable even with this historical backdrop. Each part is filled with political intrigue and tension, cinematic battle scenes and impactful discussions. I will say that the first part of the book was slower paced, but it still wasn’t boring and the pay off is so worth it.
The interactions between Rin, Kitay and Nezha are heart-breaking as always. Rin and Nezha’s fight scenes are mesmerising and emotionally-charged, but the moral and ideological conflicts between all three of them are just as impactful. It was interesting to see the balance of power that is constantly shifting between Rin and Kitay, Nezha, the Trifecta, the Southern Warlords and the Hesperians (basically Rin vs everyone!).
There are some great returning characters, like Jiang, Su Daji and Chaghan’s little reappearance, and some new characters like Pipaji, Dulin and Souji who have interesting dynamics with Rin. I wish we had seen more of Venka and Riga though. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Altan’s reappearance in Rin’s mind either, since I liked the way it was wrapped up in The Dragon Republic, but with Altan we get to see more of the generational trauma and grief Rin both buries and fuels her fire with. We are also introduced to the concept of history repeating itself in cycles of oppression. The idea of rewriting history as the victor motivates Rin, as her own kind have been written out of history countless times, so she really grapples with the historical narrative and whose voices we should remember. The themes and discussions provoked by them that reoccur throughout the series are the strongest in The Burning God. These topics – like colonialism and imperialism, abuse and powerlessness, and the destructive nature of war – are explored further and tied together so beautifully at the end.
And what an amazing ending. I didn’t understand why everyone was saying that this was the right (and only) way it could have ended, until I read it. It’s unforgiving and cruel but what did you expect from R F Kuang?! It is so fitting for the series and there is an element of hope (but not too much). No one escapes punishment for their actions and no one is free from suffering. This is a series like no other and deserves so much praise for everything it accomplished.
Thanks for reading my review! Did you like The Burning God, or do you want to read it? Good luck because it will probably destroy you!
Very nice review