Books, Uncategorized

Review: The Burning God by R. F. Kuang

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperVoyager for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Some spoilers for The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic will be in this review. There may be some minor spoilers for The Burning God.

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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?

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As always, some content warnings before I start my review: Violence, War, Rape, Murder, Sex Trafficking/Prostitution, Death, Body Horror, Graphic descriptions, Drug Use, Drug Addiction, Suicide Mention, Animal Death/Abuse, Medical Experimentation mention, Colonisation, Racism, detailed description of being trapped (Claustrophobia), PTSD, Cannibalism, Famine

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Let’s not pretend that The Burning God was ever going to be anything but brutal and heartbreaking – if you’ve read any of the books in this series, you know that Rebecca doesn’t hold back from writing about the horrors of war. I became quickly obsessed with this series after reading The Poppy War – the way real history has been shaped by Rebecca’s fantasy world is masterful. She manages to make her writing flow beautifully, even when describing the most heinous scene imaginable.

The Burning God picks up from the end of The Dragon Republic, dropping us straight back into the action. This book is full steam ahead from the first page and doesn’t slow down until the last word. I was completely gripped by this book – everything felt important and the book length was perfect. I feel like The Burning God was a fitting end to the series and didn’t leave any gaping plot holes or questions to be answered.

I was paranoid throughout most of this book, waiting for the next horrible thing to happen to Rin and her compatriots. This book isn’t short of shocking twists and turns – I couldn’t have guessed where it was going to go from paragraph to paragraph. I devoured this book in a few days despite working because I couldn’t bear to put it down and be kept in the dark any longer than I had to be! It was consistently fast-paced, but any slower sections were sufficiently detailed with plans or conflicts, so didn’t drag at all.

I absolutely loved the new characters this book introduced – everyone had their own agendas and morals, and trying to figure out what they were alongside Rin was exciting but incredibly stress-inducing! I am amazed how so many characters were introduced in the final book of a series, yet they all had their place and were fleshed out enough to feel needed. Every character is flawed – there isn’t a character who is entirely good or entirely bad (excluding Tarcquet and Sister Petra, they’re pure evil), but instead, every character has a solid reason for doing what they do, and Rebecca ensures that all of these possibilities are explored so we are as confused about who to trust as Rin is. The readers are expertly left in the dark until the last second which makes every plot twist just as delicious as the first.

I would usually be able to pick out a favourite character and say how much I love them, but this simply isn’t possible for The Burning God. Almost every character is a terrible person in one way or another. They all crumble morally during the course of this series, and every single one ends up paying for their mistakes. I really enjoyed reading a book where I was rooting for and supporting characters I dislike – it just shows how fantastic Rebecca is at writing well-rounded and interesting characters who aren’t good or bad, but stand for the right thing, whatever that means in this story.

Rin as a character is fascinating. You can’t help but feel sorry for her as she descends into paranoia and madness as the book progresses. She has done some terrible things, and is a true product of her experiences – her immediate reaction to things is to fight and kill as it is all she knows how to do. It was fascinating watching her have to be in charge and have to think about others and the consequences of her actions. I loved getting to see her inner conflict with her past, the Seal, her conscience and the Phoenix, and how she is forced to constantly fight to do what she thinks is right. She has to constantly deal with her guilt and PTSD from her previous experiences, and that is once again done masterfully, showing Rin’s internal conflict with brutal honesty and clarity. I thoroughly enjoyed Rin and Kitay’s friendship – he kept her grounded with his strong moral compass, and was able to check her rage for the most part, which is no easy feat! I absolutely loved this friendship and the fact that it was never forced into a romance like so many authors would do was greatly appreciated. I also found Rin’s relationship with Nezha fascinating – the mutual respect, love and hate was wonderful to read, especially with them on opposing sides this time round. He is a fantastic opposition to Rin and I would devour any and every scrap of writing detailing Nezha’s thoughts through the series.

The way that the Pantheon is described and explained is magical – I love the idea of the Gods being more like entities and ideas rather than physical beings. The discussion around religion that continued on from The Dragon Republic fascinates me, as it’s interesting to see Christianity from the perspective of the Colonised. I loved the way that Rebecca makes each character question their beliefs and showed how manipulative and cruel religious persecution is. The discussions were uncomfortable and to see the characters take on board what they were being told by Colonisers was painful and uncomfortable to read as I know it’s more than likely not far from the actual truth of how these things came to pass. The Hesperians are a truly terrifying villain, but nothing is more horrifying than knowing that their actions in this book are taken from real world history.

Large parts of this book detail incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing events, especially the sections after each battle and after the war as a whole. I usually can’t stomach excessive gore, violence and the like, but the way Rebecca writes these events showed that they were there to show how awful war is, not to glorify. The realities of war are made clear, and I appreciate that time was spent going into detail of the collective traumas of the country, instead of passing over it like many fantasy (and other books containing wars!) often do. It is refreshing to see the consequences written out clearly on the page instead of implied or ignored, which is what helped make this feel more real for me as a reader. Her exploration of occupation and how it differs from place to place was also fascinating – I loved the scenes in New City and how the relationship between the occupying forces and local people were described in contrast to Leiyang.

If it isn’t obvious yet, this book is an easy 5 stars for me. I thought the ending was incredibly fitting for this series but it has left me entirely heartbroken and shattered beyond belief – a mark of a truly great book! I wish it could have ended differently so my heart doesn’t hurt for everyone involved, but that wouldn’t have been the true ending for this book – happy isn’t in their vocabulary. If you haven’t pick up The Poppy War yet, I would highly recommend, just make sure you search out the trigger warnings as it is a hard read for a lot of the series.

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