The Burning God
by R.F. Kuang
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Pub Date 17 Nov 2020 | Archive Date 1 Apr 2022
HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, HarperVoyager
The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R.F. Kuang's acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating, enthralling effect.
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?
PRAISE FOR THE POPPY WAR:
‘An outstanding debut’
‘A book that will go down as one of the best grimdark/military fantasy debuts of all time’
‘A masterpiece by grimdark’s newest and perhaps darkest daughter’
FANTASY BOOK REVIEW
‘A wholly unique experience’
THE WASHINGTON POST
‘R.F. Kuang’s fresh approach to magic and hard-hitting story is a punch to the gut fantasy has needed for a long time. I can’t wait for THE DRAGON REPUBLIC’
Peter V. Brett, bestselling author of The Demon Cycle
‘Enthralling from start to finish … I thought myself prepared. I was now. R.F. Kuang’s debut is a masterful must-read, and I’ve no doubt the best is yet to come’
Nicholas Eames, author of KINGS OF THE WYLD
‘A blistering, powerful epic of war and revenge that will captivate you to the bitter end’
Kameron Hurley, author of THE LIGHT BRIDAGE
‘Fresh, assured, character-driven fantasy that’s choc full of magic, war, and betrayal. I loved it from start to finish’
Peter Newman, author of THE VAGRANT
‘A powerful, emotional journey, compellingly written’
Adrian Tchaikovsky, award-winning author of THE CHILDREN OF TIME
‘An original and engrossing tale of the coming of age of a talented young soldier amid the horrors of invasion and genocide’
Anna Stephens, author of GODBLIND
‘I so enjoyed The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang … It is all about survival, and how a person’s will and determination can change the course of their life. I loved the central character, felt her pain and her far-too-brief moments of joy, and just loved how Kuang breathes fresh life into the warrior training school … Highly recommended’
John Gwynne, author of MALICE
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 111 members
R.F. Kuang had a tall order on her hands when it came to the task of writing the hotly anticipated conclusion to The Poppy War trilogy -- both its predecessors met with rave reviews and drummed up a passionate fanbase; the consensus was already that Kuang’s second book, The Dragon Republic blew the already beloved first installment, The Poppy War, out of the water. Expectations were sky-high, fans were bouncing off the walls trying to come up with theories about the fates of Rin, Nezha, and Kitay, and the pressure could not have been higher. But because this is R.F. Kuang, and her books only go from strength to strength, she knocks it completely out of the park.
I have to force myself to be brief in this review, mainly in the interest of avoiding spoilers and inviting the righteous ire of a not insignificant portion of the internet, but it’s not going to be easy. Kuang has referred to herself as “an ideas author,” and it’s never been more evident than in The Burning God. The scale of this book is massive, not just in terms of the battles that wage in its pages but the ideas about warfare, politics, cycles of abuse, imperialism, and class that simmer beneath them. The ideological explorations of the first two books explode here, and it’s a testament to Kuang’s skill as a storyteller that the complex political machinations of this book are riveting to read; she weaves them seamlessly into the brutal, unrelenting, precisely action sequences and the effect is a constant ceaseless tension. You really understand that, in reading this book, you’re embroiled not only in a fight for lives, but for ideas and systems.
The real mastery, of course, is that this war of ideas is made immediate and palpable in the shape of the characters. Rin, Kitay, and Nezha and the relationships between them -- some shattered, some emboldened, and all inextricably entangled -- are at the beating heart of the novel. Rin’s character trajectory is one of the most fascinating and visceral ones I’ve read in recent years; she’s a main character destined to go down as one of the best. However, it’s her relationships with the other two that cause the gut-wrenches and heartbreaks of this novel. And this has never been a series to pull punches. These characters and their bonds have their claws in us from the start, and Kuang isn’t afraid to pull and twist at them.
It’s hard to say much more at this point without venturing closer into spoiler territory, so I’ll restrain myself. I can only say that the constantly, expertly intertwined twin tracks at the core of this novel -- the sagas of characters and politics -- culminate in one of the best endings to a series I’ve read. It isn’t one that I had predicted, but it fits and closes the story beautifully. No punches are pulled, no ends are left loose. Kuang offers an answer to the questions her novels have posed, and, true to the spirits of the books, it’s a ruthless and unyielding and and unwaveringly realistic one. But it’s one that allows for the presence of its own peculiar brand of hope, and that’s what will linger long after you finish reading this series.
A truly stunning conclusion? To the trilogy, l have been mesmerised by the previous books and this one ramped up the intrigue, the action and the angst, I would happily read any further books that was set in this world
ARC provided by the publisher—Harper Voyager—in exchange for an honest review.
Bursting with violence, devastation, death, and profound emotions. The Burning God is by far the best book R.F. Kuang has written in her career so far.
“Here’s a prophecy for you, she’d said. One will die. One will rule. And one will sleep for eternity.”
My claim might sound like hyperbole to you, but I can’t help it, I’m genuinely astounded by how far Kuang has improved in her craft as a storyteller. Do not misconstrue my statement, though, I loved both The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic, but The Burning God blew them out of the water; it’s simply on a higher level of quality.
“Hate was a funny thing. It gnawed at her insides like poison. It made every muscle in her body tense, made her veins boil so hot she thought her head might split in half, and yet it fueled everything she did. Hate was its own kind of fire and if you had nothing else, it kept you warm.”
I won’t mention any specifics regarding the story in this review. I have contemplated discussing the source of the inspiration behind the conflict in this final installment, mainly Mao Zedong’s response to Western imperialism, but I feel that it would be too spoilery for those who don’t know; I prefer to refrain from ruining your experience. If you don’t know about Mao Zedong’s tyranny, though, I suggest reading about them; before or after you’ve finished The Burning God, it’s up to you. That being said, If you do know about Mao Zedong’s story, you probably already know the general direction of Rin’s story, but rest assured that Kuang has more than enough ammunition in store to surprise, enthrall, and bleed your heart dry. I had a notion of the fate of the main characters, but I totally didn’t expect to be enraptured as much as I did. The narrative was thoroughly merciless, full of brutal actions, gripping, and unputdownable. I’m not kidding; I read the last 200 pages in one sitting. The final 200 pages of this grim novel were truly Kuang at her best; I have so many praises for what she achieved within the last few chapters, and yet I’m rendered speechless right now. Honestly, I doubt there’s an option for a more fitting ending for this trilogy than what’s written here; everything just clicked.
“The best plans were a secret until their execution. The hidden knife cuts the deepest.”
Rin has come a long way from where her story started in The Poppy War; she has fought, raged, sacrificed, and lose a LOT of important companions for the duration of her bloody—an understatement—wars against the Mugenese, the Hesperian, and the gods. I totally understand that Rin may not be a likable heroine; I don’t think she was ever intended to be one anyway, especially considering that her character is based on one of the cruelest tyrants in our history. To me, though, she’s one of the most memorable anti-heroines in fantasy. It’s not often I find myself compelled and invested in an unlikeable main character, but that’s how I felt with Rin. She has so much fury and hatred vested inside her soul towards her enemies, and she’s willing to risk everything—even when it hurts her deeply—to bring total obliteration to her enemies.
“Once I was your screaming victim, begging for your mercy. And now you cower before me.”
And it’s worth knowing that my investment in the characters didn’t go exclusively to Rin; the side characters were equally compelling, and some were definitely more likable than Rin. Their complex relationship with Rin serves as one of the things that made reading this trilogy so compulsive. Additionally, we also get to witness the background of the Trifecta in more detail here. It’s splendid, really. Kuang isn’t afraid to torture and pushes all of her characters to the brink of insanity. The number of difficult choices with pivotal results that the characters have to make was terrifying, and I couldn’t help but find myself glued to observe the tempestuous events their decisions bring.
“We all lost our parents early on, before they could tell us what provinces we were from. Perhaps that’s why we were so bent on unification. We were from nowhere, so we wanted to rule everywhere.”
One of the standout components of The Poppy War Trilogy has always been the ruthless action sequences that combined the best and worst of both humanity and the gods. I personally think that the actions and combat sequences in The Burning God are the best in the series. The lethal destructions inflicted on each other, and the damage—physically and mentally—they caused were inhumanly powerful and harrowing. As Rin wielded incredible control over the blazing crimson flame that ravages everything in her path, there are also other characters with their own respective capabilities to unleash cataclysmic maelstrom, deadly soul-leeching, and groundbreaking (literally) magic. The Burning God encapsulates what happened when mortal avatars with access to divine powers clash with each other. Glinting swords were raised, the Hesperian’s super-advanced technologies were launched; the gods are cruel, and their elegy of death was unstoppable.
“I am the force of creation… I am the end and the beginning. The world is a painting and I hold the brush. I am a god.”
As much as I enjoyed reading the constant trading of divine strengths in this blood-soaked concluding installment, it was actually the military tactics and psychological warfare that Kuang implemented into her narrative that signified the biggest improvement in her writing skills. I’ve always thought of the series as a grimdark/military fantasy series, and Kuang once more incarnated these classifications with amazing precision. The war tactics employed were smartly written; environment, power, weapons were all considered before each battle waged. Most importantly, I can’t praise the psychological warfare engaged highly enough here. It’s purely remarkable how the most intense moments of the entire series were not when a clash of swords and magic were displayed, but it was the psychological battles fought. I honestly felt the dread and extreme paranoia that the characters experienced; the bleakness of the atmosphere and the feeling of helplessness were scorched into my soul, and once again, I couldn’t put the book down when this entire section of the heartbreaking story unraveled.
“Ideological purity is a battle cry, it’s not the stable foundation for a unified country. A nation means nothing if it can’t provide for the people in it. You have to act for their sake.”
I still have a myriad of things to praise, but I must put a stop here; I risk writing a novella if I don’t force myself to stop now. In my review of The Poppy War, I said: “This is the beginning for a new queen of fantasy and you should consider yourself damn lucky to have the chance to witness it.” Not only this statement stands true up this day, but it screams stronger now. I am incredibly fortunate that I get to witness Kuang’s journey as an SFF author from the beginning; the trail of stories she left here is inspiring, and I foresee the flames she’ll ignite in her future novels will be as brilliant. It has been an extraordinary honor to have read The Poppy War Trilogy, an Asian-inspired fantasy trilogy I cherished since its pre-debut in 2018. Tempered with tremendously well-polished deftness in storytelling, every scene in this book was painted vividly, and every range of emotions was tangibly delivered to the readers. It might not do enough justice to Kuang to say that The Burning God is one of the best grimdark fantasy novels that I’ve ever read, but this is the highest form of praises I can bestow to this novel. The Burning God is indisputably one of my favorite books of all time, and more than ever now, the completion of The Burning God earn R.F. Kuang her rightful crown and throne as one of the queens of modern fantasy.
“For it was wonderful to remember that this land could still be so breathtakingly beautiful, that there was more sewn into the heart of the Twelve Provinces than blood and steel and dirt. That centuries of warfare later, this country was still a canvas for the gods; that their celestial essence still seeped through the cracks between worlds.”
The Poppy War: 5/5 stars
The Dragon Republic: 4.5/5 stars
The Burning God: 5/5 stars
The Poppy War Trilogy: 14.5/15 stars
To future readers of this book, get a bucket—preferably two—because your tears will flow. In The Burning God, Kuang threatens to rip out the hearts of her readers, and this is what we’ll say to her:
“Do it. Take what you want... 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.”
Official release date: 26th November 2020 (UK) and 17th November 2020 (US)
You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
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