The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Two years after The Poppy War, the first part of this trilogy series, was placed into my hands, I finally finished this emotional roller coaster. By the time we reach The Burning God, Rin is no longer the petty, lost child she once was, but I became increasingly frustrated with her blunt attitude and actions, now as a war-hardened general and a powerful shaman finally in control of her powers. It takes some willpower to move past the first 8 chapters of Rin’s ruthless carnage before we see more into her reasoning and limitations.
In terms of the storyline, R.F. Kuang seamlessly maps the history of 20th century China, from millenniums of imperial rule to the Republic of China to the ensuing revolts to western imperialism, into a narrative complete with ancient Chinese mythology, folklore, and war tactics. Though we finally see an end to the war, this last book especially taught me the demanding, cutthroat decisions that political and military leaders were forced to make for the sake of their country. This insight is made all the more heartbreaking as Rin grows increasingly vulnerable to war paranoia, factional infighting, and betrayals. The added issue of defending Nikan against the technologically advanced Hesperian nation also allows readers to understand the deep history of racism and subjugation that western powers inflicted upon 20th century China.
Kuang especially highlights a universal message: history moves around in vicious circles, and Rin is no exception to that pattern. Beyond the grim storyline and much, much, much more mature issues, Kuang continues to deliver on the evocative imagery of Rin’s divine firepower, as well as develop her complicated love-hate friendships with Kitay and Nezha. Side note: I think Nezha is a beautiful character (think broken redemption arc deserving Draco Malfoy), and I love how Kuang describes his aristocratic but scarred persona. However, I wanted to see more of Nezha’s reasoning and thoughts, and I had hoped for more insight into the pain he deals with as the opposition. I gave this book three stars because, like the author says, this ending may not be satisfactory for everyone (as it wasn’t for me). However, this is still one of the most unique and exciting books that I’ve read in a while, and I hope everyone gives the series a try. —Review by Alysa S. ’22
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