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The Poppy War #3

The Burning God

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2020)
The exciting end to The Poppy War trilogy, R. F. Kuang’s acclaimed, award-winning epic fantasy that combines the history of twentieth-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? 

622 pages, Hardcover

First published November 17, 2020

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About the author

R.F. Kuang

15 books24.7k followers
Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, translator, and award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Poppy War trilogy and Babel: An Arcane History, among others. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale. She is rarely here, except to leave occasional adoring reviews for books she really loved.

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Profile Image for Petrik.
654 reviews39.8k followers
December 4, 2021
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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.”

Series review:

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

Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!

My Patrons: Alfred, Devin, Hamad, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas.
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,151 reviews97.7k followers
November 29, 2020

ARC provided by Harper Voyager

1.) The Poppy War ★★★★
2.) The Dragon Republic ★★★★★
2.) The Drowning Faith ★★★★★

"Rin had spent so long hating how she felt when she burned, hating her fire and her god. Not anymore."

The Poppy War trilogy is truly once in a lifetime and this conclusion was honestly a work of art all itself. This series is a military epic fantasy that is ownvoices and inspired from the authors family history and the stories she learned from them. Heavy themes of war, colonization, racism, colorism, genocide, cycles of abuse, and so many different types of trauma are never shied away from. I’ve read and reviewed many books these last six years of my life, and I’m not sure a series has impacted me more than this one. Every sentence has meaning, every chapter is so well planned, every event conveys layers and layers of thoughts and feelings. History is truly created by the victors mostly with the most blood on their hands, and the stories that get told are mostly through a white and colonized lens. R.F. Kuang has done so much with these three books and they mean so much to so many Asian readers.

Okay, okay, let me try to give you a review now! Also, please check out my dear friend Petrik's review, because he is the reason I requested an ARC of The Poppy War back in early 2018. He is also a Chinese reviewer and his voice means a lot to me! Next, this review is going to be spoiler free for The Burning God, but not for The Poppy War or The Dragon Republic! Please use caution reading this review if you have not read the previous two installments in this series!

(beautiful art of Rin by merijae!)

"She was capable of such cruelties, even without the Phoenix’s power, and that both delighted and scared her."

Rin and Kitay have had everything in their world turned upside down again at the start of this book, but they are both desperate to reclaim a country that has been taken from them repeatedly. They’ve also both been playing for the winning side for so long, they soon learn that tactics and strategy feel vastly different when you are now the underdogs. Rin has only known destruction for so long, but now she gets to know what it feels like to be a liberator instead of only a tool because of her god.

We really get to see many different sides of shamanism in this book, and I adored that aspect with my whole heart. I feel like I really can’t say a lot here, but the trifecta and the additions were amazing. I will say my only complaint for this book comes from the trifecta, but I still couldn’t get enough of all of the different types of shamanism in this book! Especially with a few new characters who easily made me feel very many emotions while this story progressed!

Speaking of different types of gods, I will say with utmost confidence that The Burning God has the best fight scenes I have ever read. Like, ever, in my whole life. Rin and Nezha just… the imagery, the banter, the emotions, their complicated actions, everything is another tier. Like, the pouring rain and the breathing of fire alone had me burning and drowning in the very same moment. Utter perfection in every combat scene and it was some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever seen strung together. Truly one of my favorite parts of this book, and not to lessen any of the important themes and values, but I don’t think I knew yearning until I read Nezha and Rin on different sides of a war neither want. The buildup of every encounter, every battle, every conversation, I was truly quaking.

"Hate was its own kind of fire and if you had nothing else, it kept you warm."

This book very much centers around trauma and the many different cycles and forms. We get to see so many different kinds of trauma from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, but we also get to constantly see the trauma from xenophobia and the impact of racism and colonization. We also get to see the way that many different characters within the book attempt to heal, live, and cope with their different traumas. And even though it is very heartbreaking, it’s very real, and very honest, and very important. I feel like The Burning God especially puts an emphasis on how abuse and trauma can be more easily hidden because of love, duty, and maybe even vengeance, too.

"You don’t fix hurts by pretending they never happened. You treat them like infected wounds. You dig deep with a burning knife and gouge out the rotten flesh and then, maybe, you have a chance to heal."

And Rin’s trauma is so deep. She always remembers what it felt like the be a war orphan who was looked down upon from the very start. She knows what it feels like to be considered a lesser student because of her skin color and because of where she is from. She is haunted by the betrayal she has endured by the people who she thought she loved. She will never forget all the things she has seen and the price of war. She is realizing all the shit she has been forced to internalize because of the environments she has had to survive in. Rin harness her hate and anger and desire for revenge and keeps it close to her at all times in this book.

"They want to erase us. It’s their divine mandate. They want to make us better, to improve us, by turning us into a mirror of themselves."

I feel like I could write an entire review on the colonization in this book alone. The reader gets to see the threat of this more and more in each book, but when Rin visits “New City” for the first time, it was harrowing in every sense of the word. Yes, this book is about a horrible and terrible civil war, but the Hesperians are the greatest evil of this whole book. How the Hesperians took over this city, took over the name, took over the foundation, took over the imports and exports, took over the military, all the while trying to convince everyone that it’s for the greater good, that it’s the right and better way, that it’s the only way. This might be the Filipino coming out extra hard, but white people love to colonize everything, but especially the people of the land they try to take, while always reminding them they are and never will be truly equal to them. All of the scenes that truly disturbed me were with the Hesperians, and they so horrifically depicted what has happened to so many countries over and over again, and what is still going on unapologetically in 2020. I could feel Rin’s helplessness with everything I am, and I hope people really process who the villain of this story truly is. Magical gods disguised as dragons, power hungry men, and internalized racism are terrifying, but there aren't words for people trying to rip the identity of your culture from you.

"There are never any new stories, just old ones told again and again as this universe moves through its cycles of civilization and crumbles into despair."

This book also emphasizes how the victors get to decide how the history is written. They get to create their own villains, their own heroes, their own story. History books are written by the same colonizers who are still trying to take absolutely everything and make it westernized, hence the fact most people (myself included) were not educated on what was going on in China pre WWII, and what happened when Japan marched on Nanjing.

"When you conquered as a totally and completely as he had, you could alter the course of everything. You could determine the stories that people told about you for generations."

I’ve had so many people in my DMs on goodreads and on insta asking about my feelings on how this last book concluded, and I never really know how to answer it, but the answer is heartbreaking perfection. I honestly cannot think of a better conclusion, yet I do think that it won’t be for everyone. But as the events in The Burning God unfold, it becomes more and more clear. And I really do think it is a perfect parallel(s) to how things in our world felt then and how they very much still feel now. Also, war is unspeakably hard, but when you’ve lived your life for battle after battle, trying to live after a war is over can be just as hard, just in a different kind of way.

"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."

Overall, I’m going to be really honest. I cried while writing this review, and I’m very teary eyed right now with my final thoughts. This series just means so much to Asian readers and reviewers. It was such an honor to read these books, to feel haunted but seen by these themes, to fall in love with Fang Runin over and over again. What a blessing it was to see all three of these characters, walk alongside them, see them change and grow, because of their environments, because of expectations, and because of their damn selves. I truly don’t have the words. From Sinegard, to every battlefield, to the very end. I am rendered speechless. Not only do I think Rebecca is going to redefine so many parts of the book world with her writing (both with this trilogy and all her other endeavors to come), but I think she will inspire and help pave the way for so many Asian authors to come. She truly ended this trilogy perfectly, I’m just not ready to say goodbye, but I am so eternally honored for this series existence, and I truly will sing it’s praises forever.

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Trigger and Content Warnings: animal abuse, animal sacrifice, animal death, colonization, dark torture, dark murder, death, racism, genocide, colorism, sexism, assault, talk of rape, talk of sex trafficking, talk of being buried alive that I feel could be claustrophobia inducing, talk of suicide, abuse, talk of abuse in past, PTSD depiction, grief depiction, so many traumas depicted very hauntingly, talk of drug addiction, drug use, drugging against people’s wills, bombings, self-harm, forced captivity (also claustrophobia inducing, I feel), panic attacks, blood depiction, talk of genital mutilation (to people who committed bad acts), cannibalism, talk of kidnapping in the past, talk of a graveyard devoted to children, mention of miscarriages and abortions, mention of shock therapies, mention of unwanted medical experimentation, starvation and famine, and just overall very dark war themes. This book does not shy away from all aspects of war, and can be extremely hard to read at times, please use caution and make sure you’re in the right headspace! (Please credit me if you copy paste these trigger warnings! It takes a lot of time, energy, and labor for me to try my best to help ensure the people who read my reviews have the safest reading experience possible! You just read a review (and book) about colonization, don’t steal an Asian reviewer’s work! Thank you!)

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤

Profile Image for R.F. Kuang.
Author 15 books24.7k followers
June 27, 2020
I worked harder than I ever have before to pull off the ending. I'm heartbroken to say goodbye. I'm so proud of how far I've come in my storytelling abilities–I really do believe TBG is the best thing I've ever written, and I hope you think so too. I can't wait to share this book with you all in November. <3
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
525 reviews56.6k followers
December 31, 2020
This was amazing.

Too often, I find the last book in a series is the weakest. Not enough answers, too short... I'm happy to announce with this one you finally get a good ending to an Adult Fantasy series!

I loved the world building, the magic system, the morally grey main character...

If you haven't read The Poppy War series you need to!
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews150k followers
Want to read
November 17, 2020
I love how the early reviews for this book range from "this was such a great book!" to "I'm but a shriveled husk of my former self. I will never meet happiness again. All therapy bills must be forwarded to R.F. Kuang."

Can't wait.
Profile Image for Warda.
1,090 reviews17.4k followers
April 2, 2022
Edit: the more I think about it, the more I hate it. This book ruined this series for me.
Lowering it from a 2 star to 1 star.


Well, this rating is awkward.

I consider myself hollow, annoyed, irritable and meh. These are not emotions you want to be feeling when reading a book and completing a series. Especially a series I initially loved.

This review will be all over the place, just like this book was.

If you want to be that annoying person telling me I’m wrong for not having enjoyed this book and then proceeds to write an essay outlining why I’m wrong, please go ahead. Let’s get a discussion going and tell me what the actual point of this story was, because I might have missed it in between all the war and the travelling and Rin.

These are some of the factors as to why my enjoyment was butchered (some spoilers ahead):

1. I left this too late. Should’ve binge-read when I had the chance because book 1 and 2 were fuckin’ gold.
2. It was too plot-driven for my liking. I was bored way too many times.
3. Reading only from Rin’s POV became exhausting. Seeing her constantly being played with became infuriating to read. This might have been a journey to see how someone in Rin’s shoes becomes the villain, but we could’ve gotten a more well-rounded story had we been exposed to POV’s from other characters – especially Kitay, since he was her anchor and dealing with her burden – and view this war from different angles, not just Rin’s only.
4. The ultimate showdown was between Rin and Nezha, so it would’ve made more sense to have his perspective in this book and to see them colliding.
5. But all we got was Rin, Rin and more Rin.
6. There was no sense of direction. Was this the point? I get that war creates chaos and uncertainty, but now that I’ve finished reading it, I still don’t know the direction it was headed in.
7. At times, it felt like I was reading a text book. And it’s not that I’m opposed to historical narratives in fantastical settings, since some parts are rooted in facts, but I wanted a better blend of the two. It took me out of the story.
8. The Trifecta story-line was a big fuck you. So anti-climactic. How are you going to easily get rid of characters THAT powerful when you built them up the way you did?
9. The shamans were introduced too stupidly late into the story. And then they proceeded to die? They could've played a significant role. Also how was Rin in charge of that when she could barely lead an army?

The major issue I had was with Rin and her character arc. There are anti-heroes and then there’s Rin. There were way too many insecurities within Rin and that aggravates me when it comes anti-heroes and villains. We’ve had two books where her character was built up and the groundwork was laid and we had plenty of time to feel and experience all the traumas she’s witnessed. Enough empathy was created.

I was expecting by book 3 for her to become a ruthless and desensitised motherfucker. Someone with a cunning mind. Descend into her inevitable madness. Something! And whilst she had her moments, she was more of a constant puppet. I was getting fed up with the never-ending back and forth: ruthless one minute and feeling sorry for committing said ruthless atrocities the next. It became repetitive. And kid-ish.

I wish she leaned in to her cruel nature rather than constantly questioning it. Like, you did that already in the past two books, and you continued to do it in this book, please move on. No one feels sorry for you at this point. You chose this path, relish in your crazy now.

Half the situation she got out off was due to sheer dumb luck, and thanks to Kitay or others steering her in a different direction, not because she’s an evil genius.

And Altan. What. Why was he still showing up in the story? Her attachment to him started to make no sense.

Some redeemable qualities:

1. Kitay!
2. How colonialism was discussed. The impending doom they carried, and how they plagued this story was quite vivid and appreciated. Their disgusting after effects are still being felt till this day.
3. The backstory we got into the Trifecta (before it was ruined).
4. The way war fucks with every aspect of life.

No doubt that R.F. Kuang knows her shit. But this was too much all at once. It dragged the story down, though it was fast paced. And by the end, I did not care.

The disappointment is real. And my day has now been ruined.
Profile Image for Sofia.
294 reviews5,923 followers
July 28, 2021
This book broke me.

I’m not sure how I can possibly encompass all the emotions this made me feel. All I can do is try.

The Burning God felt like coming home. Not that it was wholesome or sweet or comfortable—definitely not. But it felt like coming home in that it was absolutely everything I could want in a book. After all this time spent searching, I have finally found another series that I can whole-heartedly love and recommend.

After the events of The Dragon Republic, Rin joins the Southern Coalition in an effort to stop the Dragon Republic from taking over Nikan. She’s broken, emotionally and physically. She was betrayed and barely escaped with her life, and now she wants revenge.

This book is beautiful and haunting and painful.

This is definitely the most hard-hitting series I’ve ever read. Rin is so power-hungry, but this raises the question of what she will do once she has all the power she wants. Does she actually deserve it? Is she the villain or the heroine? Is she actually trying to do a good thing, or is she just obsessed with gaining power?

I love the way this book makes me think.

And oh, the characters were utter perfection. They were written so carefully. They’re bloodthirsty and merciless and yet…

In the end, they’re just kids.

No matter how much Rin lashes out, she’s still just a frightened girl thrust into a terrifying world. Kitay always seems so strong, but he is hurting on the inside, bound to Rin because he loves her. And Nezha—Nezha the unshakeable—is just a shell of his former self.

War has changed them, shaped them. They are no longer petty, spoiled Sinegard students. They’ve been hardened, broken, and molded—brought together by a shared pain.

My heart breaks for them.

I love how vulnerable they all are, especially Kitay. He’s a good person at heart (probably the only one in this series), but he was forced to do terrible things and undergo traumatic events because this world is cruel.

Kuang made a very smart decision when she wrote this book in third person through mostly Rin’s perspective. Rin’s biases and fears are shown very well. When she got paranoid, I felt scared as well. When she felt bloodthirsty, it was almost like I was there with her, screaming at the sky. The chapters not from her perspective were so shocking to me (especially The Drowning Faith), because it was disconcerting to see what other people thought of Rin. I was so caught up in what she thought of everyone else. This was a really clever way to write the book and it built such a deep connection between me and Rin, even though she’s an unstable, dangerous psychopath who has committed genocide. It really takes skill to make me sympathize with someone so messed up.

Also, someone/some people died. Thank you. Thank you, R.F. Kuang, for actually keeping characters dead and not doing a random resurrection arc at the end.

The Burning God has everything I want in a fantasy book. Pain, pain, and more pain.

I recently discovered this perfect album called The Spell by Cellar Darling. It reminded me so much of The Poppy War series that I just had to dedicate a whole section of this review to the similarities between them. The album is exquisite. It’s atmospheric, haunting, and full of pain. While I was listening to it, I had the sudden thought that these songs sound like they were made especially for this series.

Every song is linked to a character, and I included in-depth explanations below.

Pain → Venka
Death → Rin
Love → Altan
The Spell → Kitay
Burn → the Phoenix
Hang → Sister Petra
Sleep → Jiang
Insomnia → Riga
Freeze → Daji
Fall → Vaisra
Drown → Nezha


🚨Some of these connections will be spoilers for the series in general and for this book. I will mark spoilers for TPW and TDR along with TBG. Mild spoilers are marked with a yellow heart (💛); moderate spoilers with an orange heart (🧡); major spoilers with a red heart (❤️). Quotes in italics are lyrics from the respective songs.🚨

Pain: Venka
This song is full of agony, as the title suggests. It’s dark, heavy, and wild. It reminds me of Venka’s personality and history.

🧡 Day in, day out / They abuse
Venka was brutally assaulted in Golyn Niis and remains traumatized from that event.

🧡 Born to absorb all the pain in the world / Like a voodoo doll of mankind / How did I become the eye for an eye? / Fearful of your unruly wrath
Towards the end of The Burning God, Venka is accused of treachery by a paranoid Rin, who takes her anger and frustration out on Venka (“fearful of your unruly wrath”).
In The Dragon Republic, she is scorned by her family and rejected (“born to absorb all the pain in the world”).

Death: Rin
This song is creepy, haunting, and twisted; just like Rin. It stays with you for a long time. It’s sadistic - rather like Rin - and catchy in a really aberrant way.

🧡 Who are you to decide since it all comes down to me?
Rin gains ultimate power at the end of The Burning God. She ignores protest from Kitay and does what she wants, to terrible ends.

💛 Here I am, I've come for you / Look me in the eyes and tell me your name
Rin is sadistic and takes great joy in torturing and emotionally manipulating her captives. The slightly mocking “Here I am, I’ve come for you” reminds me of how she plays with her victims before destroying them.

❤️ You and I, at the end of time
Kitay and Rin are bonded, their lives linked forever (“the end of time”). In the end, they die together.

Love: Altan
The title of this song might not remind you of Altan, but the melody and the darkness behind it might. To me, this song represents Altan’s relationship with Speer, his hatred, and the Phoenix.

💛 When in love, when in love with the darkness / All is lost to a bitter embrace / When in love, when in love with the darkness / All that's left of you will fade
Altan is consumed by burning rage and hatred, and he begins to lose himself along the way. He is also addicted to opium, which makes him fade away into a shell of his former self. The “darkness” mentioned in these lyrics could represent his hatred or opium.

💛 Purge me with your violence until we are as one / Ceasing to exist I'm forever bound to you
This is reminiscent of Altan’s relationship with the Phoenix - he’s so closely linked to the god that he is hardly himself anymore. “Purge me with your violence” is reminiscent of Altan’s relationship with the hatred he has for the world. He practically bathes in it.

❤️ And finally, death do us part / From the world silence in the dark / Silently rid me of pain
Altan dies at the end of The Poppy War, ending his pain once and for all. The words “and finally” bring to mind a voice filled with agony, someone looking forward to death, just like Altan.

The Spell: Kitay
This song really captures who Kitay is. It’s conflicted and pained, but resigned. Kitay is a good person thrust into horrible circumstances, and he made the best of it.

🧡 Loathsome spell, which cast I do covertly / Gruesome spell, so tenderly forged just for you
Kitay and Rin are bonded. Kitay would never sacrifice so much for anyone but Rin (thus the line “tenderly forged just for you”), but he still resents the bond (“loathsome” and “gruesome” show his dislike).

🧡 Eternal life will haunt you / Eternal pain
Bonded to Rin, Kitay will have a longer lifespan if he doesn’t get killed. But he will also be doomed to a life of eternal pain, channeling the Phoenix for Rin.

🧡 You, you are the chosen one / For you, you'll never see me again
Exhausted from Rin’s constant use of her fire, Kitay begins to fade away. But he knows that Rin is the special one, or the “chosen one.” He knows he isn’t as important as she is.

Burn: the Phoenix
This song is intense, heavy, and almost enraged. It reminds me a lot of the Phoenix, especially with all the fire metaphors. It’s also slightly uplifting at times, reminding us that fire isn’t all bad - it brings warmth and light as well as pain and death.

💛 Smoke and the cinder ash / Kindred ties of mine
The Phoenix is the god of fire and delights in destruction, thus the “smoke and cinder ash.”

💛 Feeding the fire / Reaching for the smoke ascending
The Phoenix feeds the fire by building up the hatred in his hosts. The fire often bursts out of Rin, reaching higher and higher.

💛 Hold still the flaming child / Feeding on this pain of mine / Cradled by ashen hands
The Phoenix carefully cultivated Rin for the role of his host. “Feeding on this pain of mine” could represent both Rin’s pain and the Phoenix’s pain. The “ashen hands” that cradle Rin, the “flaming child,” are those of the Phoenix.

Hang: Sister Petra
This song has a more cheerful feel to it, but if you read the lyrics, you will be disturbed.

💛 Breathe silently, make the ghostly voice surrender
Sister Petra is obsessed with making Chaos surrender, hence the “ghostly voice” that isn’t quite physically present.

💛 Breathe silently, make the voices die forever… / Leave violently, make it all be for the better
Again, Sister Petra’s goal is to make the voice of Chaos die forever. She uses morally questionable methods to do so (second line).

Sleep: Jiang
This song is slow, calm, almost peaceful. But if you listen carefully to the lyrics, you will find a much darker theme. This reminds me a lot of Jiang.

🧡 If it was that easy / I'd fall asleep and not wake
Jiang, as a member of the Trifecta, is terrified of Riga. He’s also tired of living. But it’s not that easy, as the song says.

💛 Sweet and bitter substance / Unconscious but alive
The “sweet and bitter substance” represents opium. Jiang spends his later life teetering on the edge of sanity. The word “unconscious” here represents the unconsciousness of his alter persona, the former member of the Trifecta.

🧡 Only I now lie awake / Numb and barely there
Jiang is in a state of near-death when Rin takes him to Riga.

Insomnia: Riga
This song is haunting, almost horror-like. The vocalist enters with an unstable and obsessed-sounding voice, much like Riga himself.

🧡 One, two, three, forever / I will not sleep, never / Five, six, seven, hate, lover / I will wait forever
Riga is locked inside the mountain, waiting for someone to release him. The repeated negative “never” in the second line emphasizes how determined he is to break free.

🧡 Close to freedom now / Douse me with sound
Riga senses that he is close to freedom when Rin comes to him, and he rejoices in that fact. He specifically requests to be doused with sound, making it sound like he is looking forward to it.

💛 I cannot dream anymore / Of you and your absence so haunting / I won't sleep, I won't dream anymore
Riga is left alone. Daji and Jiang are gone. The word “haunting” isn’t entirely pleasant, bringing to mind his bittersweet, conflicted feelings on the Trifecta.

💛 One, two, three, forsaken / Insanity awakens / Five, six, seven, fate shaken / Sanity forsaken
From the little we see of Riga, we can come to the conclusion that he is insane. He’s obsessed with power and he’s incredibly dangerous.

Freeze: Daji
The tone of this song is pained, eerie, and regretful. It’s an accurate representation of Daji herself. She’s filled with regret. She wants to forget.

🧡 Am I dead? Am I dead? / Not yet, not yet
Daji, as one-third of the Trifecta, has lived for an extremely long time. And yet she’s tired of life (“Am I dead?”). But she keeps living.

💛 I'm not dead, yet stone-cold, filled with regret
The heavy regret Daji feels is evident in all her actions. She has done terrible things in the past, and it clearly weighs on her.

🧡 I ascend these heights in search of an end / In my head only you / As I roam this cave in search of a friend / Of whom I require
“These heights” represent the mountain Riga is entombed in. Daji ascended the mountain and entered “this cave” where Riga slept. Riga was an old friend, like in the lyrics. And she required him.

💛 You, who I wanna forget / You, who I wanna forget
Daji longs to forget the Trifecta, but they still haunt her.

Fall: Vaisra
This song is euphoric, almost heavenly. It seems at odds with Vaisra’s personality, but the lyrics match and if you know Vaisra’s fate, you can definitely see some connections.

❤️ Falling through the clouds / Blankets of fog don't catch me when I fall
Vaisra fell out of a dirigible in The Burning God, and then he was killed by Rin. He was let down by his forces when he needed them the most.

Drown: Nezha
The title of this song is perfect for Nezha. If you know, you know. All the lyrics remind me so strongly of him, as well as the song’s conflicted vocals and pained melody.

❤️ Safe from harm / I'm swaying back and forth / Cradling me / The arms of halcyon seas
When Nezha is around the river god, he is protected and virtually invincible. However, he’s not comfortable with his powers (“I’m swaying back and forth”).

💛 And it feels like I'm stranded / And I feel so lost
These two lines remind me of The Drowning Faith, where we see another side of Nezha. He’s conflicted, lost, and confused. He doesn’t know what’s right and what’s wrong.

❤️ A new beginning awaits
Nezha is the only one standing at the end. He’s left in control of Nikan. The Burning God ends on a hopeful note. A new beginning is possible.

❤️ How would it feel down under the waves / Smothering air I've breathed, so alive / Drowning
Nezha is a shaman and controls the water. He has fantasized before about drowning, but he knows that it’s impossible for him.

🧡 Do you feel lost at sea?
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but this reminds me of Rin and Nezha’s relationship. They care about each other, but they can’t be friends. Water and fire cancel each other out. Due to unavoidable circumstances, they are thrust apart. That might be why Rin always feels so lost when she’s with Nezha.

❤️ In deepest waters / Baptized so forcibly
Nezha was tricked into meeting the river god and his powers were forced on him.

🧡 Why am I alive?
Nezha is haunted by the death of his little brother and wonders why he didn’t die instead.

This must be a next-level obsession.

5 stars
Profile Image for elena ❀  .
252 reviews2,607 followers
April 3, 2021
It’s so much harder to stay alive. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to live. It means you’re brave.

It's difficult for me to write a review for a book I enjoyed enough to like it but didn't love it as much as I thought I would. It's worse when that book was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. It's even worse when I stayed up until 4 AM finishing it only to then realize I would have preferred the beauty of sleep.

Look, 3 stars for me means the book was good. It wasn't perfect nor almost perfect, but it was highly enjoyable enough. Perhaps you will see and find that I am a hypocrite throughout this review because of how I present my thoughts on it, but please hear me out.

The Burning God starts off where The Dragon Republic ended. Rin has been betrayed once again by her allies, the people she thought she could confide in and trust, after her battle with the empress Su Daji and the civil war. One of those people is Nezha, the boy she came to love, never thinking he would betray her. So now Rin continues marching forward, continuing her journey of winning this war and bringing freedom for the people and things she has sacrificed so much for. As Rin makes her way back to her hometown in Rooster Province, Tikany, she is met with challenges and comes to an epiphany of vengeance. People like Rin are seeking it, and Rin realizes her true power lies within them, and with their help, she can bring them salvation. Although Rin continues forming new relationships with new allies, Rin can only continue trusting herself and see how far she can and is willing to go. With the help of the Pheonix, Rin must continue controlling herself in order to defeat the Dragon Republic, the Hesperians, Nezha, and everyone else who continues trying to stop her.

TW: for violence, death, colonization, abuse, exploitation, addiction, racism, and many more. Keep in mind that this trilogy is inspired by mid-20th century China, the Sino-Japanese war, and the Song dynasty.

This was chaos, but chaos was where she thrived. A world at peace, at stalemate, at cease-fire, had no use for her. She understood now what she needed to do to cling to power; submerge the world in chaos, and forget her authority from the broken pieces.

Let’s start with Fang Runin.

Rin, my angry speerly. You morally grey character.

I don't know how to describe the love and hate I grew for Rin. She was bold and strong, yet made stupid decisions sometimes. I wished the best for her but I also just really wanted her to get a grip of herself.

There is so much that happens in The Burning God. Rin continues moving forward in order to continue fighting in the war, bringing an end to it as soon as she can, but there are so many obstacles that stop her, and they truly annoyed the fuck out of me. Kuang herself said Rin is inspired by Mao Zedong, and although I don’t know much about Mao, I know a little. When you know a little about Mao’s political ideology and thoughts, you can see the resemblance in Rin. She’s thirsty for revenge, and she’ll stop anyone who gets in the way (or so, I thought).

My biggest issue is how it felt like Rin . . . lacked. In the beginning, she was devouring her fire power, the Phoenix, and her ability to finally control it, to call it with rage and despair, and it was beautiful to see how accepting she was of it, how fond she was becoming of it. But, throughout the entire novel, Rin’s ability just lessens. Sometimes it felt as if she was a Sinegardian student again, learning about her powers with Jiang, but in a more advanced way.

Rin had spent so long hating how she felt when she burned, hating her fire and her god. Not anymore.

Rin has been through hell and back, and although she continued to manage to get back up, she kept getting hit with invisible daggers as she made her way forward. Rin’s trauma is notable in almost every page she’s in, from her ally’s betrayals, to her inability to feel complete rage at everything, to understand what she wants to do. She is presented with the chances she was dying to get, but she lets them get away. I’m not dehumanizing Rin, and my intention isn’t to say Rin hasn’t been through a lot. She’s the only Speerly left, she’s been kidnapped, experimented on, tortured and beaten up, discriminated against for her skin color, province, dialect, and financial standing, had to kill innocents in order to survive, and witnessed the death of her friends. Rin’s experienced so much and had to witness so much.

You may be thinking "If you know Rin has been through all that, why are you saying she's weak?" and I totally get you. It makes sense. I think my biggest issue was how her character developed. Rin, the fire, the battles—it all felt . . . weak.

Let them think of us as dirt, Rin thought. She was dirt. Her army was dirt. But dirt was common, ubiquitous, patient, and necessary. The soil gave life to the country. And the earth always reclaimed what it was owed.

One of the most important themes in this book is colonization, and it's very clear. Rin wants to liberate not only her people but other oppressed people and she wants to put an end to the Hesperian's colonization. Hesperia is disguised as the U.S. and/or Europe while Nikan is China. Hesperia is trying to occupy Nikan while Rin is trying to stop them. She is not only trying to stop them but also wants to prove evidence of the gods and how the Hesperian's Divine Architect (God, is that you?) is not real. But Rin’s inability to do this becomes more and more clear after every page.

She can't.

She was trying to escape a world that didn't want her. And you know, she did. She escaped that world, but the world kept looking for her. She had to continue carving paths for her own self and she just continued getting trapped.

I don’t like to believe emotions make us weak, but I think in Rin’s case, her emotions began to make her weak. Her flaws were presented the most here.

The reason I say this is because Rin's biggest problem continues lying in how easily she continued trusting. She's an antihero unsure of what she was supposed to do and feel at times. And because of her emotions, I believe her trust issues got a hold of her, leading to everything that happened. Maybe it's my own problem, but in terms of her fire and power, I really thought she would have been physically stronger, capable of doing more.

With that being said, I do want to add that one of the most beautiful things about this, regardless of the rest, was Rin's reconnection with her roots. Rin had spent so much time hating herself for her skin tone, dialect, and for being from the south. She was ashamed of herself, and when she returned to Tikany, she realized she had changed not because she wanted to, but because society had implemented this belief that dark-skinned meant inferior to pale-skinned. This is still very relevant in modern society and how whitewashed it is. It was beautiful and heartbreaking to see Rin accept herself for who she is. Not just as a Speerly but as a Rooster who was brown, an orphan, grew up poor, and survived so much.

“I am the force of creation,” Rin murmured as she stared at the ceiling and watched it spin. Vaisra’s sorghum wine burned sweet and sour on her tongue; she wanted to swig more of it, just to feel her insides blaze. “I am the end and the beginning. The world is a painting and I hold the brush. I am a god.”

One thing I didn’t notice in The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic that I noticed in The Burning God is how much Kuang tells instead of shows. If she had shown more than simply tell the reader, the book would be longer, and I would not complain. There were so many scenes, battle scenes especially, where I wish Kuang would have been more descriptive and shown us what was happening instead of just telling us. One scene that comes to mind specifically is the scene where Rin is training the kids to be shamans. They were kids first with no power whatsoever, and instead of showing us how they got their power, instead of allowing the reader into their minds, we were suddenly told they called the god. It was so boring.

Do you know what your problem is? You’ve been fighting this entire war on the defensive. You’re still thinking like someone on the run. But it’s time you started thinking like a ruler.

It’s no surprise that the side characters became of my interest as well. Venka, Kitay, Nezha, the kids Rin trained, The Trifecta, Chaghan, and hell, even Souji. But I will say that I wish we got to see more of them, even though some really pissed me off. We met some of the characters for such a small amount of time, but it was enough for me to get attached to some of them. There were many more things to unpack from them, and old crew members, like Chaghan, opened my interest in knowing more about them, what they were doing, where they were, etc.

Everyone has suffered on their own and together. The trio found themselves together at a point, where none were trying to kill the other, and it was heartbreaking. All I wanted was to root for them. Although Kuang warned her readers to prepare a bucket for tears, I was preparing my entire mentality. I knew what was coming and what was going to happen. I sadly spoiled myself before reading The Dragon Republic by reading Rebecca's tweets about her snippets of this book before it got released. I was anticipating it, if I'm being honest. I just wanted it to be over.

Nezha and Rin. Rin and Kitay. The trio stole my heart, wrecked it, and never put it back together.

You’re not fighting a campaign for this land, you’re fighting for the people. And if you learn to trust them, they’ll be your best weapons. They’ll be your eyes and ears on the ground. They’ll be natural extensions of your army. But you never, ever endanger them against their will.

And then there’s Rin and Nezha. I love and hate both. It is truly a complicated relationship, a complex one. But I will say this with no shame: I, again, thought there would be more from their fight scenes. Their powers are complete opposites, fire and water, and it is beautiful chaos. But, their scenes together were not enough to capture my heart. As I said before, the author does a lot more telling than showing, and their scenes were some of the most evident with that. The 'chemistry' between them? Didn't feel it. Their banter? Not enough. Their fights? Her breathing fire into him and him sweeping her flames with the water? Sigh.
It was just not enough.

Perhaps I am too unemotional. Is that it? What happened to this love I had for RiNezha? It’s still there, it’s just a little transparent.

Enjoy your Republic, she thought, fingers curling against the cold armrest. Enjoy it while it lasts, Young Marshal. Take a good look at your splendor, and remember well how it feels. Because I am coming to burn it all down beneath you.

Now, if you asked me what I thought about the ending, I'll say this: It was 4 in the morning and I was crying. I could not cry loud, couldn't let it all out, because my family was asleep. I had to sniffle quietly, hold in whimpers, and grab my blanket until my knuckles turned white. It was just that one scenes fault.

I don't think there were many other options left for the ending to change. I think what happened had to happen. If one's creative, they can imagine a different ending, but since this trilogy is inspired by Mao, the Sino-Japanese war, and overall, war, there wasn't much hope. If you expected a happy ending, I don’t know how and why you’d think that.

And she would promise them all that she would make their sacrifices worth it. Because that was what the dead were for her—necessary sacrifices, chess pieces lost to advance her position, tradeoffs that, if she were given the chance, she would make all over again.

In conclusion, The Burning God is action-packed, descriptive, intense, and pretty damn torturing, but it failed in delivering that full punch. With that being said, there is no doubt R.F. Kuang has managed to get a spot of royalty in the genre of adult fantasy. The praise she gets is not overrated. She deserves being one of the most highly praised and talked about SFF authors out there. I really cannot wait to read what she writes next in the future.

So Rin marched because she knew that, at the end of their journey, salvation was waiting. She marched because every step brought her closer to the gods.
Profile Image for Nicole.
370 reviews12.6k followers
July 14, 2021
Nie mogłam sobie wymarzyć lepszego zakończenia.
Profile Image for may ➹.
463 reviews1,849 followers
January 24, 2021
— find this review and others on my blog

4.5 stars

To any reader anxious about this epic finale, or intrigued enough to pick up book 1 for the first time: Good luck.

The Burning God is the thrilling conclusion to the Poppy War trilogy, and when I say thrilling, I truly mean it. I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time I read it, so scared for what was going to happen yet unwilling to put the book down and have to wait another second. It was an exhilarating feeling to be engrossed in this book, and upon finishing it, all I could do was let out a slow exhale (before the tears fell), in awe of the threads RF Kuang had woven in this book. While not my favorite of the series, and not perfect in my eyes, The Burning God was a fantastic way to end a brilliant trilogy.

“Do it. Take what you want. I’ll hate you forever. But I’ll love you forever. I can’t help but love you. Ruin me, ruin us, and I’ll let you.”

Rin. Rin. Fang Runin, my favorite murderous, vengeful, and very stupid antiheroine. I can’t start this review without talking about her first and foremost. I fell in love with her and her arc from the start of the series, and she continued to impress me with how angry, motivated, and dumb she is. Following her throughout the book was riveting but painful, both for her foolish decisions but also for how she somehow managed to grow more and more terrifying.

She’s changed so much from her time in Tikany and Sinegard, and like in The Dragon Republic, she learns how to heal from her trauma in her own way throughout the book and find agency that she was never allowed. Though I couldn’t get enough of Rin finding thrill in her darkness, I was equally scared by her, especially knowing this time that she was based on Mao Zedong. (I hadn’t looked into the historical connections before reading books 1 and 2.) Her arc is so well-written, and as one of my favorite fictional characters, this book did her complete justice and she got everything she deserved.

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 am also deeply obsessed with the dynamics and relationships Rin has with other people, particularly Kitay and Nezha. First of all, Rin and Kitay’s love for each other… I’m going to cry. I’m genuinely going to cry. I want what they have—that all-consuming, burning love for someone that makes you feel like something essential to your ability to live has been ripped from you if you’re away from them. And as for Nezha… I was excited and anxious to see what would happen between him and Rin after the ending of The Dragon Republic, and I was not disappointed. So many scenes involving them made me lose my mind, and I live for their complex, complicated dynamic. If I say anything else I will just end up screaming, so I leave you with that.

On top of Kuang’s excellent character work, the prose in The Burning God is absolutely lovely. I devoured the entire book in a matter of three days, which is a feat on its own considering its size but even more so after I had been struggling to read anything for over a week. I made nearly four hundred highlights, by far the most I’ve ever made in a book. (Scrolling through all of them now is how I feel alive, and by alive I mean in monumental pain.) I’ve said before that Kuang’s writing is easily readable, which I greatly appreciate in the adult SFF genre, and I think her prose has gotten even better in this book. It flows so beautifully yet cuts into you in all the right places.

One will die. One will rule. And one will sleep for eternity.

This novel, and this trilogy, is one of themes. The Poppy War painted the story of a girl, a war, and the terrible journey that led her to commit an atrocity; The Dragon Republic followed her in the aftermath, witnessing her grapple with trauma and a new war; and now, finally, The Burning God watches her become an even more menacing force to win an impossible war. And throughout it all, war is unending, trauma is pervasive, and the terrors of imperialism and colonialism loom overhead. The book’s ties to Chinese history adds even more meaning—to know that all of these horrors are inspired by or sometimes even specifically modeled after events in the past—for even in a fantasy world, the true villains are not whatever nightmares can be conjured by gods and shamanic magic, but the humans who take and never stop taking.

The main goal for so many of the characters in this book is winning the war. For some of them, it feels like a gaping thing essential to their survival. But what is heartbreaking is that even though one side could come out of the war slightly less unscathed than the other, there is no real winner. Not when the West has sunk its claws in so deeply that all you can do is learn how to live with it breathing down your neck. And I think that’s the true beauty of this series (if you could call it beauty): the way it explores what people do to survive in a world where they must exist with their oppressors.

Amongst all of this, Kuang writes some brilliant warfare and strategy, making the book all the more entertaining and exciting. I loved seeing how the military tactics changed throughout the series as they adapted to new enemies, and you can really feel the pages dripping with Kuang’s intelligence. And the fight scenes in particular were… thrilling, to put it one way. Some of the best combat scenes I’ve ever read that were somehow full of both hatred and yearning, to put it another.

“You can’t do this for me. I won’t let you.”
“It’s not for you. It’s not a favor. It’s the cruelest thing I could do.”

I know many people are anxious to see how this book ends, just as I was, and I can assure you, no matter what you think, you are not prepared. I was vaguely tearing up as I read the last chapter and epilogue, but as soon as I finished the book, I went back, reread them, and immediately started crying. I was genuinely sitting on the floor of my bathroom, hugging my knees to my chest, and full-on sobbing into my arms.

It is an emotional ending, but one that is so, so fitting, and I am deeply satisfied by it. I think there will be people who don’t understand it, who don’t love it at all, and I’m going to be upset that those people don’t get it. Because ultimately, no matter how harrowing or upsetting, it is a realistic and beautifully, poignantly written portrayal of the certain kinds of horrors in this world and Rin’s, the people who inflict or become victims to them, and the consequences they have to face. It is truly the only ending for these characters and this world, in my eyes—it broke my heart, and I loved it.

I won’t lie: to me, this book was not perfect. Though overall it was an amazing novel and conclusion to the series, as evident by my high praise, this was the least well-written book of the trilogy, in my opinion. I wish it had been longer, especially near the end. There were a lot of scenes that I think would have benefitted from being more developed, especially with specific reveals or twists, and some parts weren’t wrapped up in a way that completely satisfied me. There were just certain plot points that I wanted more development from, and I was sad that I didn’t get to see that.

“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.”

All that being said, The Burning God was undoubtedly an excellent book. It’s a bittersweet feeling to have reached the end of this blazing trilogy, one that I have only known for a year yet hold so dearly, but I am happy with its ultimate ending, even if there were some rough parts on the way there. RF Kuang has certainly made a name for herself in the adult SFF genre, and I can’t wait to devour her next masterpiece.

If you are looking for a fantasy series that draws on Asian history, explores colonialism, imperialism, and war, and creates compelling and complex characters and dynamics, I highly recommend this one. This trilogy has been a breath of fresh air, from an author who doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome parts of history and writes with so much intensity. Kuang laces pain in her every word, and I can’t help but love it. I likely will never recover from these books, but I don’t think I am meant to. This is a story that demands your attention, demands that you listen and breathe it in, and refuses to let you go.


:: representation :: Chinese-coded MCs

:: content warnings :: brutal war themes (murder, death, violence, torture), genocide, racism, colorism, abuse, animal death/cruelty, depiction of trauma/grief, drug use, mutilation, sexual assault, suicide, cannibalism, talk of rape/sexual abuse, talk of human medical experimentation

Thank you to Harper Voyager for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.

All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.
Profile Image for Hilly.
684 reviews1,216 followers
July 23, 2022
Fuck this.
I knew there was no fixing things but seriously?
*breathes in a bag*
I’m not really happy with that ending but it probably makes sense in the grand scheme of things (not) 😬

Rare photo of Rin talking to Kitay in this book:

I have been dreading to write this review because I’m still conflicted about my feelings on this book. On one side I really liked it, on the other I was disappointed. I’ll try to put my jumbled thoughts in an order than makes sense.

It pains me to say this, but I was bored. I found my brain drifting somewhere else when Rin and the army were traveling back and forth. I was tired of reading about them moving to places without a little intrigue or dialogue between characters I love. The writing was slow, it focused a lot on the obstacles they had to get through, but it didn’t really show them. At the same time it glossed over some parts I would have loved to read more about and that would have made me infinitely less bored. Let’s be real, there wasn’t enough Kitay or Nezha (and no Cike), they were the ones supposed to make the narrative flow better. At least that’s what I observed in the previous installments.

The great empires of the waking world were driven so mad by what they had forgotten that they decided to slaughter the only people who could still dream.

I think the grimdark came out full force in this book more than in the others. The brutality, man. It was on a whole other level. My jaw is still on the floor after the Souji scene.
Plus can we talk about Rin? The rest of the morally grey characters ever written have left the chat. I loved that Rin was basically insane; usually you praise the character development in a book series but here I am praising her realistic descent into madness. Oops.

In summary my expectations were probably way too high for a third and last book in a series when I know for a fact that I tend to like less the last book in comparison to the first and second ones. I just had a lot of faith in Rebecca. Which wasn’t misplaced at all! But with books like The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic, The Burning God can’t absolutely withstand the competition. My whole being is too in love with those two perfect works that my brain won’t let me love TBG as much. And that ending didn't help at all, what was the point? :(

Profile Image for Muhtasin.
182 reviews642 followers
December 10, 2020
The Burning God (The Poppy War,#3) by R.F. Kuang

A phenomenal and a tear-jerking conclusion of the series with more action-packed. The way Kuang reconciled Chinese mythology and fact history of Sino-Japanese War in the whole series was enthralling. Amazing character crafting as any may feel the characters' emotion, guilt, anxiety, triumph, rage. Besides dealing with humanity, eagerness to achieve power and the horrible aftermath of the war made the story so realistic. Profoundly unpredictable, the tale was!!! It was an incredible finale to this series.
Dying was easy. Living was so much harder—that was the most important lesson.

Profile Image for jessica.
2,477 reviews29.7k followers
November 29, 2020
‘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.’

rin has bled across the gradient from morally grey to the most vicious black.

i knew the conclusion to this series would be unforgiving. it takes even the strongest characters and breaks them. it takes their hope for a better world and extinguishes it. and as i found myself reaching the final chapters, realising how this story would unfold in its ending, i couldnt help but think ‘what was even the point?’

and i will tell you the point - war is deadly. war is a thief. war is all consuming and ever-changing.

seeing rin become a young military student in order to escape her impoverished life, to engaging in local battles as a soldier fighting the enslavement by an enemy, to completely decimating those who stood in her way, to losing herself to a destructive god because she has no one else to trust, thats the point. her development in this series is the point.

and this ending did her entire story arc the most brutal amount of justice, one that completely destroyed me in the process.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Hamad.
972 reviews1,283 followers
November 3, 2020
This Review ✍️ Blog 📖 Twitter 🐦 Instagram 📷


“One will die. One will rule. And one will sleep for eternity.”

⬆️⬆️ Level Up: Book #100 in 2020 ⬆️⬆️

WOW! JUST WOW! I don’t know where to start this review with because whatever I say, I don’t think it would do this book just. Kuang is a prodigy and I am pretty sure she will be one of the hugest names in fantasy in the years to come! How can someone my age write something this excellent like she has been writing books for decades. Kuang is already a master of the craft and she stepped up the game once again with The Burning God.

I remember reading The Poppy War before it was this known and it was one of my favorite books that year. I thought the book was excellent and I still remember some of the scenes vividly! The book then started getting more and more recognition which it totally deserves and made me happy the fandom is growing more! Then I read an ARC of The Dragon Republic and I was even more impressed by the improvement and the book became a favorite of mine too. Just when you think the series can’t get any better than that, I get an ARC of this book and holy shit! This is the best book in the series and is just on a level of its own when compared to the whole genre!

I always loved Kuang’s writing but her skills in this book were just flawless. Book 1 had a few minor problems which I can totally understand from a debut but with this book you could tell that Kuang is much more comfortable in her writing and that she learned the secrets of the business. It does not look like this was written by a 24 year old author but as someone who has been writing for 24 years!

“Hate was its own kind of fire and if you had nothing else, it kept you warm.”

The story in book 2 finished and made us all wait on our tiptoes for this book. The book continues the event after book 2 and the story is still a military/ epic fantasy at its core. The book deals with the same heavy objects it did in previous books like war, racism and violence! I was not surprised by the plot in this book but was surprised by how well it was executed. I am gonna be honest when I say I don’t know much about the history and wars that inspired this story but I could tell where the story is going! But this story is much more than just plot twists that I can see coming or not. It is an important story that carries a history of a nation within! All the respect for Kuang for making it exciting to read too! (I think I will disagree with some of the fans who think this should not be entertaining because books can be important, deep and yet entertaining).

Rin, Nizha and all the characters we love are in this book and they all grow and change in this book immensely! I remember my friend tweeting a while ago that characters growth should not always mean they improve but sometimes fall into anger and despair which quite describes some of the development happening in this book! There was one point regarding characters fate that I was not a big fan of because I thought it was rushed but other than that, I felt the characters were perfect! (I hate to think days about the ending before I could decide how I feel about it).

“And you should know by now that when you leave your enemies alive, wars don’t end.”

Summary: In short, this was one of the best trilogies ever! From the cover design to the last line in the trilogy! It is a very important story too so do yourself a favor and read it if you haven’t already!
Profile Image for Matt's Fantasy Book Reviews.
203 reviews2,091 followers
September 1, 2022
Check out my YouTube channel where I show my instant reactions upon finishing reading fantasy books.

A single POV book + a main character I absolutely hated = an extremely unenjoyable experience.

Before I explain why I gave this book a 1 star rating, I want to get though my positives. First positive thing I can say is that the book is done and I can now move on to other books. Okay, with that out of the way let's discuss the things I didn't like.

While there were many things that I had a problem with in this book, I think they can mostly be summed up into two main categories.

I hate the main character.

Rin is an extremely frustrating character to read about. I felt she had a good character arc in the first book that developed who she is as a person, and culminated in a shockingly brutal ending that was supposed to transform her into a different person for the final two books. And while it did indeed transform her, it was the entirely wrong direction from an enjoyability perspective. She completely lacks any form of empathy, makes horrific decisions consistently, an an internal monologue that is completely dry, and I found myself actively rooting against her as a character. So for a book to use a single POV from her perspective, this book became a chore to get through for me.

I do think her character could have been written in a more compelling way, but ultimately I think this book would have been massively better if it used multiple POVs. There were many characters in this book that I desperately wanted to learn more about and see things from their perspective (Kitay and Nezha in particular), and the lack of that ended up making their character development feel rushed and I got no direct attachment to these characters that I should have received.

I don't mind a good anti-hero, which is the core of what R.F. Kuang was going for here, but I was desperate for her to turn into one that I enjoyed reading about - someone with a cunning mind and you can feel the madness of them completely take over. But what I got instead was someone who consistently was getting played, was constantly questioning her choices, and reeked of insecurities until the very last pages. It's just so boring reading over, and over, and over again the formula of victory -> betrayal -> compassion being overrode by bloodlust. It quickly got old and formulaic.

This book rides the line between fantasy and historical fiction, and it would have benefitted by picking a lane and running with it.

There are huge sections of this series, and this book, that mirror real life events from Chinese history. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good history book - but this book rode the line too much and ultimately for me wasn't a good history book, or a good fantasy book. A real history book of these events would have been exponentially more brutal, and made the reader feel far more emotions than what ended up getting evoked here.

I've heard from many people that this book "broke them" and was a great look into the brutality of war. And when I hear these things I end up just thinking that these people are either finding something in this book that just didn't work for me, or they have little to no experience reading historical war books. And while this book did have many dark events happen, this felt like the YA version of a vicious war story.

At the end of the day, nothing is darker than actual history. So if you want a better book in my opinion, you should go read a biographical account of Mao (who is basically Rin with some differences) or get a book that delves into the specifics of some of the darkest aspects of Mao's reign like Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine. Or you should go on the other side of the spectrum and go full war fantasy with a unique story and pick up something like The Black Company.
Profile Image for lisa (lewis hamilton's version).
130 reviews410 followers
January 12, 2023
i do NOT recommend reading the last 20 pages of this book with the great war by taylor swift on loop because i almost died from grief yesterday
Profile Image for ✨ A ✨ .
423 reviews1,595 followers
February 19, 2021
If Rebecca Kuang's intention was to give us all trust issues then she definitely accomplished that.

This could be the end of their story or the beginning of a glorious chapter.

This book had a different feel to it. Knowing that it is the last installment and that the fate of Nikan is in such peril fills the reader with undeniable dread. You don’t know who to trust. Walking on tiptoes, peaking around corners waiting for the next hit to your heart.

I’m going to be honest here and tell you that I thought the middle section to be very draggy. I know, I know. This series has always been a slow paced one. And usually it didn’t bother me.


I think because I knew there would be no happy ending, I was filled with such a sense of foreboding, watching as Rin and the state of Nikan just kept on spiralling downwards. ((Anxiety inducing tbh))

I had to pep talk myself into continuing. I even put the book down for a couple of days to recharge my mind. But then I got back into it and just had to know how things would go down.

The politics, action scenes, military strategy and battles were my favourite. The Burning God features mainly siege and guerilla warfare tactics that I found highly interesting.

Anyone who has read this series can appreciate how well the author depicts the real cruelties of war, blends in real parts of history, doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff and does not romanticise it the way many authors do.

War didn’t end, not so cleanly—it just kept building up in little hurts that piled on one another until they exploded afresh into raw new wounds.

Rin travels a lot throughout this book which means we get to see even more of Nikan. From enchanting mountains and war torn, famine ravaged countrysides to modern cities – it was all so resplendent and graphic.

The new additions to the cast of characters were an interesting bunch. By now I’ve learnt my lesson and knew not to trust anybody. In this series everyone is out for themselves.

We’ve seen Rin go through so much hardships throughout this trilogy. You cannot deny that she has suffered and has a right to the rage she is filled with. After how things ended in The Dragon Republic, Rin has had to learn to become a leader. Something I really liked was that she wasn’t one of those ‘over-night leaders’ so often seen in fantasy. She didn’t just wake up one day with all the skills. She makes mistakes and she learns and despite not wanting to, listens to advice given to her.

“Do you know what your problem is?” Daji asked. “You’ve been fighting this entire war on the defensive. You’re still thinking like someone on the run. But it’s time you started thinking like a ruler.”

Even so, Rin has become alarmingly ruthless. She has traded her humanity for power. And there is no coming back from that.

Kitay, my pure child. He remains the light of this whole series.
His friendship with Rin brought me so much joy and the beauty of their bond was a contrast to the harsh, brutal situations they were surrounded with.

[…]trusted first Daji and then Vaisra, and they’d both sold her away without blinking. From now on Rin took charge of her own fate.

I have one word for the ending: traumatising.

Just thinking about this ending makes me want to howl in agony.
Since finishing this book I’ve been trying (in vain) to flush it out of my system with adorable and sickeningly cute reads. It hasn’t helped one bit.

Even though I thought that some things still needed to be addressed (that’s one of the reasons my rating is 4 instead of a full 5) this was a spectacular conclusion to a series that will stay with me for years to come.

Ending it any differently would not have felt authentic to this story and because I’m a masochistic fool — I cannot wait to read it all over again 😊.

It’s not just about the enemy. It’s about what the world looks like after.

The audiobook is 23 hours and 47 minutes. That's almost 24 HOURS OF PAIN

*laughs hysterically*

Thoughts and prayers concerning my mental state are duly appreciated 💐
Read my reviews of:
Book 1 - The Poppy War
Book 2 - The Dragon Republic
Profile Image for Lia Carstairs.
396 reviews2,054 followers
May 10, 2021
Guys, this was the happiest book ever!! Happy ending! Happy characters! Happy everything! Kuang couldn't have written it better! Everyone's happy, safe... I dont know why people are saying this is heartbreaking? If anything, it's heartwarming!

My heart totally didn't feel like it was being ripped out of my chest and thrown into a shredder! I totally did not go to sleep crying and wake up again crying! I totally don't feel like I need someone to pay for my therapy bills!

No, not at all.

I'm completely fine.

yea no, I feel like I'm dying. I am dying. This pain should be illegal. What is happiness? This is so depressing. And me, the masochist, keeps going back to the last two chapters *sobs* what am I doing to myself?

Please end me.

Funny how I said that reading Clockwork Princess, The Hero of Ages (etc) were the most I've ever cried -- HA I lied. No book like The Burning God's ending has ever made me sob this much. I am dead. It's to the point where every single time I close my eyes, I picture the ending and that is not okay. Kuang, what have you done to me???

There's no peace, only pain. This has quite literally left a scar on my heart and soul forever. Not only did Kuang bury the knife deep into my heart, but she twisted it causing me excruciating pain.

I actually can't think about this book without crying, so this review is basically me as an emotional wreck. Sorry but not really in advance.

(Also, there are no spoilers in this review until the end when I give out the warning!!)

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“The point of revenge wasn’t to heal. The point was that the exhilaration, however temporary, drowned out the hurt.”

This whole journey has been full of trust, love, hatred, revenge, pain... I've never before seen such a story have so many complex issues. It's astounds me.

Rin's character has developed so much. I can't believe this all started with poor 14 year old Rin who just wanted to get out of marriage by studying to enroll in Sinegard... to this. It breaks my heart when I see how much she's gone through.

And it's not just Rin. Kitay, Venka, Nezha, Altan, the Cike... they've all suffered so much throughout the whole series. Kuang is a demon with her characters. There's literally nobody in this trilogy who hasn't suffered. Of course, some had it coming and deserved it, but others... *sobs* no, no, they definitely didn't deserve that.

I swear, it brought me so much joy seeing Rin finally accept who she was and where she came from, and be proud of it. These last two books, she'd constantly be insulted because of her dark-skin and having come from Tikany, a poor village in Rooster Province. Because of this, she hated herself and thought the others to be superior, trying to cut all ties with her former village.

However, here Rin learned to embrace it all. She accepted everything that she was and most importantly, she did not bow to anyone. Rin's now chooses to be in command.

No longer would she be the submissive fool she once was. although she still makes some pretty dumb mistakes She leads. She gives the orders. She deals out the punishments. I literally love this girl.

And after the ending of The Dragon Republic, I was so looking forward to retribution. I am not completely satisfied, but satisfied enough. The pain she dealt to certain people was amazing. My only complaint was that it wasn't dragged out longer for a certain person :' (

“It doesn’t go away. It never will. But when it hurts, lean into it. It’s so much harder to stay alive. That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to live. It means you’re brave.”

Please, Kitay actually deserves everything. While I had conflicted feelings throughout this series about Rin, Nezha, and others -- my love for Kitay was the only constant. When I say not one moment did I hate him, I mean not one moment.

From the moment I met this cinnamon roll in The Poppy War, I fell in love and automatically knew he had to be protected at all costs.

Literally their friendship was so heartbreaking and beautiful. Watching them argue over and over again, but then come back still loving the other so much ohmygod-

This. THIS is literally a perfect example on how platonic love can be just as amazing, actually even better , than a romantic one. I love it. I love it. I love it so much.

Kitay was the anchor to Rin's sanity. He'd always try preventing her from making rash and stupid decisions. He's her moral conscience.

Can I just please go back to the first book? I thought TPW was horrifying and depressing, AHAHA what a joke, TPW is heaven compared to the rest of the series.

I want my children to stay happy together at Sinegard *sobs* this torture. Erase everything that's happened after that moment. I want a Kitay. My baby-

Also it was amazing learning so much more about the Trifecta. Their history, the missions they made, each and every one of them and how they acted... all I have to say is damn.

═════ °• ♔ •° ═════

(🛑MAJOR SPOILERS for the end of TBG start here!! Skip to the bottom if you don't want to be spoiled🛑)

═════ °• ♔ •° ═════

"Dying was easy. Living was so much harder—that was the most important lesson Altan had ever taught her."

So you're telling me, all that hard work, all that pain, torture, and suffering, all those years of war....

ONLY for Kitay and Rin to die like that???

They beat the Hesperians in battle, but in the end, it was because of the famine and damage Nikan took, that the Hesperians ended up winning and I am forever destroyed.


But all those memories they had together in the span of those 5 years -- some good, mostly bad, BUT STILL. they were memories of them suffering together and I am not okay.

And the fact that Kitay and Rin's last moments together were of them fighting breaks every part of me beyond recognition. IT HURTS. Rin thinking Kitay betrayed her ohmygod PLEASE STOP THIS PAIN.

And the fact that Kitay's last words in this world were "You're hurting me" to Rin absolutely destroys me and I am sobbing.

The way I can imagine Kitay's pained expression so clearly I SWEAR ITS KILLING ME. PLEASE OMG.

And can I just say -- Rin literally chose death over surrendering to the Hesperians/cooperating with them. The way she knew that this fighting would never end if she lived and never surrendered. It honestly would've been so wrong if she'd given up to them, but she really went ahead and said "I'd rather die than bow down to these bastards." She literally sacrificed herself in hopes for a better world, knowing she wouldn't be the one to do it. AND I RESPECT THAT SO MUCH, BUT IT HURTS. She died on Speerly, and I died with her.

AND I CAN'T BELIEVE OUT OF ALL OF THEM, ONLY NEZHA SURVIVED. (Although I honestly shouldn't be surprised) Venka my baby, also died and it was so heartbreaking that she died Rin thinking she was a traitor like hell no WHY?! Venka didn't deserve that, Kitay didn't deserve that, what the hell. While Rin got out of bowing to the Hesperians, Nezha's going to have to so honestly, nevermind, that's torture itself. I could never.

It actually broke me even before the deaths started. They were all so so depressed at the end, suffered so so much, and I hate this so much, but it was so realistic.

They've all come a long way from the children they once were.

═════ °• ♔ •° ═════


═════ °• ♔ •° ═════

“You never want to hurt them. But you have to. You have to put them through hell, because that’s the only way anyone else will survive.”

Oh no, I'm quite certain Kuang wanted to hurt us. We were put through hell and none of us survived, but still... this author has my heart.

I swear, if I was rating the ending itself I'd 100% give this 5 stars, but unfortunately I'm not and I have to say that some parts in the book dragged out a lot, especially during the many marches. Don't get me wrong, they were interesting, but my mind drifted a lot.

However, despite me giving this 4.5 stars, this is most definitely an all-time-favourite because that ending broke my heart into more pieces than I could've possibly imagined. It was a sob-fest. And I even knew how this was going to end so I prepared myself but that didn't work at all. Kuang is both a genius and a monster.

I hate that I can never read more about these fleshed out and glorious characters. I hate that even if I re-read, it'll never be the same. I hate this so much, because I do not want to part with them.

But you know what, even thinking all of that I regret nothing. If anything, I regret not reading this series sooner. I will forever be grateful for the pain beautiful story Kuang has created and I know that whatever series she's going to make next will be just as painful beautiful.

Go ahead and ruin me, Kuang.

“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.”


Honourable mention: I'm forever grateful to the best demon out there Mashie for being there for me while I screamed, raged, laughed, and cried. You truly made this book even more amazing than I could've imagined. Thank you so much🥺 I couldn't have possibly survived the aftermath of the ending if it weren't for you.💙

═════ °• ♔ •° ═════

Pre-read Review:

At long last, I am reading this.

kuang, please don't kill me haha what a joke

═════ °• ♔ •° ═════

The Poppy War: ★★★★.5
The Dragon Republic: ★★★★★
The Burning God: ★★★★.5
Profile Image for Jonathan O'Neill.
154 reviews295 followers
December 21, 2021
The Burning God - 2 ⭐

The Dragon Republic - 3 ⭐

The Poppy War - 4 ⭐

* 21/12/21 - Rating updated from 3 to 2. I've rated a few books 3 stars since this one and there's no way this held a candle to any of those. I feel much more comfortable with 2⭐. This was an abomination! *

As I suspected, a bit of time to dwell on the many flaws in this final entry has clarified my feelings on this one despite the positive influence this book has had on my reading selection over the past few months. While the transparency of Kuang’s real-world inspirations had the tendency to regularly pull me out of the fantastical setting, it also rekindled my long-neglected interest in Chinese History/Philosophy. So, first and foremost, Thank You, Rebecca Kuang.
If you’re a big fan of the series and susceptible to tantrums whenever somebody speaks poorly about your faves, or if you’d prefer not to be spoiled, I suggest you look away now.


To associate the events of this third and final instalment with real-world events, we follow Mao Zedong’s (Rin) rise to power. This includes the development of Guerilla warfare in the South, the Ziangxi period, The Long March (Oct 1934 – Oct 1935), The Great Chinese Famine and quite a chilling observation of the insidiousness of Colonisation. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of the Great Leap Forward and the fact that the policy changes and reforms associated with the movement were the main cause of the famine.

There is so, so, so much exposition on the horror and brutality of war. At this stage in the series, one is almost entirely desensitised to the violence and tragedy of it all. I can’t quite decide whether to criticise the heavy repetition, or praise Kuang for her ability to simulate desensitisation through exposure. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt in this case. Congratulations, my heart is officially made of Tungsten Carbide and I have the emotional functionality of a lobotomy patient.

Kuang’s writing can still verge on childish and immature at times. It’s not nearly as prominent as in the two previous books in the trilogy but it’s still there. Rin will often say or do something ridiculous or over-the-top which only ever feels like a transparent attempt at fan-service. On top of this, many of the characters have the same voice, which I can only assume is Kuang’s own voice coming through too strongly. I criticised Stephen King for the same thing in ‘The Shining’ so at least Rebecca’s in good company there.

For example, I would expect the members of the trifecta to be sagacious and wise but more often than not they come across as petty and mocking just like… Pretty much every other character in the series. Kuang’s lack of skill and experience in writing diverse characters results in these characters never quite reaching their potential.

Rin is still unbearable but I’ve come to terms with that and don’t wish to spend a great deal of time discussing her character. For more detailed thoughts on Rin, see my review for ‘The Dragon Republic’. All I will say here is that, through the entire journey, she has been a purely reactive protagonist. More often than not, being roused to action by the events surrounding her rather than being the instigator of events and then taking credit for whatever outcome falls into her lap. This series could’ve been a lot better with multiple POVs.

The pacing is all over the shop! You know that scene where Schwarzenegger drives a car for the first time in ‘Twins’ and just alternates rapidly between pedal to the metal and pumping the breaks, that’s this book! There are 3 climaxes in this book and they’re all incredibly underwhelming and undermine the compelling build-up that pre-empts them.

The first is the awakening of Riga and the culmination of everything we’d learned about the Trifecta. The leadup to this was good. We’d received morsels of information regarding the Trifecta throughout the whole trilogy. I was extremely curious to meet the all-powerful Riga that Daji and Jiang spoke so highly of, we were finally going to get the band back together and then in the blink of an eye… It was over! We met Riga who was really just a one-dimensional douchebag, Rin decided, now that it was too late, that maybe awakening Riga wasn’t the best idea (never mind the fact that Kitay had told her that about 1500 times), Jiang had a self-sacrificial moment that was completely devoid of any emotion and fell completely flat, and then the Hesperians and the Trifecta blew each other to smithereens… The end. Goodbye Trifecta. Ciao. Hasta la vista! I just… I don’t get it! What was the point of that whole sub-plot?!

The second (anti) climax is Rin’s “defeat” of The Republic, Nezha and the Dragon of the Grotto. Again, the bloody Hesperians come in with their damn Dirigibles (If I never hear that word again, it’ll be too soon) and their large-scale Shock Therapy and render a Deity into a whimpering Lizard. Kuang tried to produce a bit of emotion through the deaths of the two newbie Shamans but that brings me to another issue. Who introduces new characters in the final 200 pages of a book? (Chakraborty, but I’ll leave her out of this) We’d met them very briefly earlier in the book but really, who are these people?! I don’t care about them! There was a whole new recruit training section 200 pages before the end of a trilogy… You just… You don’t do that!

The last of these 3 (the ending) was serviceable but predictable.

After the second climax, Kuang spends probably close to 100 pages on exploring the after effects or by-products of War and how civil-war, in particular, can tear a Country and its inhabitants apart. I actually thought this was very well done. The bleakness of these chapters leaves no doubt that there are no Victors in War. The only drawback of this section was that it felt quite rushed as Kuang was trying to fit commentary on such a massive subject into a tight leadup to the finale. This really exacerbated the pacing issues of the book. There was also a clumsily placed scene in which Rin exacts revenge on Petra from the Gray Company. I’m not sure what Kuang was playing at here but, to me, it just felt like a completely gratuitous revenge scene with the catharsis of killing off a character that we never really got the chance to hate, being the only true objective.

I’m pretty sure I mentioned this in my review for ‘The Dragon Republic’ but the constant reference of Sun Tzu and ‘The Art of War’ in this book is ridiculous! It’s scattered throughout the whole book but only really irritated me when I noticed at the start of Chapter 5 that his name was mentioned 6 times in 4 pages. Whenever strategy was discussed, somebody would always mention Sun Tzu’s principles. We get it! You’ve read ‘The Art of War’, can you stop dragging me out of the story to explain its key principles! Kuang also names Zhuangzi at one stage. He is a Taoist philosopher, responsible for one of the two foundational texts of Taoism, the other being Lao Tzu’s ‘Tao Te Ching’. It’s not the end of the world but I would’ve thought in Fantasy, you would, perhaps, use these almost mythic figures as inspiration but not directly reference their real-world texts.

With so many references to Sunzi’s Military treatise I was surprised to find such a stark strategic fallacy in the latter parts of the novel. Rin comes to the assumption that Nezha must have spies inside her army and says, ”The question was whether she could limit how much they knew”… Of course, you can Rin! One of the absolute staples of that book that everyone seems to keep mentioning is the importance of espionage:

Dead spies
Are those for whom
We deliberately create
False information;
They then pass it on
To the enemy

See, simples! When Nezha forced a confrontation in Xuzhou, would it not have been the obvious choice to mislead him into believing you were sending the full force of your army to Xuzhou but covertly send a small cohort of soldiers, along with Papaji, to the Grotto to poison the Dragon? It might not have worked but it certainly seems like the obvious strategy! Some short Papaji POV scenes would’ve worked brilliantly if thrown in amongst the chaos of the battle in Xuzhou!

Ultimately, Kuang’s debut series is far from perfect but it is a fast and enjoyable read. It’s also a great way for a younger readers to, hopefully, become inspired to further educate themselves on the tragic modern history of China. In my opinion, it’s the perfect transition novel for those looking to branch out from YA to Adult Fantasy.

”Ideological purity is a battle cry, it’s not the stable foundation for a unified country.”
Profile Image for Althea ☾.
623 reviews1,908 followers
February 18, 2022
Kuang is a ruthless Queen. Are you expecting closure? *evil laugh*

There are too many things to discuss and I am emotionally unstable.

You know what, I feel like I've said all I need to say for this series in my The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic reviews. Read those if you feel so inclined and still need a push to read this series or the other reviews because I need... err.. space.

— overall thoughts: 4.5 —

Admittedly, I had some problematic parts with the build up in the middle and how the Trifecta storyline was handled, but I'll look over that because of the character dynamics and execution of the the ideas that went into the series. Kuang achieved what she wanted to achieve.

I haven’t finished it yet but you know what we should be talking about: THE PLATONIC LOVE CONTENT 😭💖 there’s a conversation that could be told discussing if it really is selfless love from Rin’s perspective or if it’s just because of the power she gains from it. Which either way, is so compelling to read and analyze.

Most of the negative reviews I see about this series is always talking about how they don’t like Rin but I mean— you’re not supposed to?? A well-written character does not always have to be morally pure and good. I think it takes skill to be able to write a dislikable main character but still have people want to read about them.

welcome back to another edition of: *closes my eyes while running away to an isolated island to avoid spoilers*

Profile Image for Marzuqa.
63 reviews55 followers
January 23, 2021
I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better conclusion to this phenomenal series. Yes this was ruthless, and yes, it messes with your emotional stability, but this was so profound and intelligently crafted. It manages to take you by surprise right until the very end.

There was betrayal and vengeance, brutality and gruesomeness, angst and violence, and what not! Kuang does not fail to amaze with this finale. Can’t help but feel sad this is over, since I’d actually come to love so many of the characters.
Profile Image for Layla.
315 reviews347 followers
January 17, 2022
"War didn't end, not so cleanly—it just kept building up in little hurts that piled on one another until they exploded afresh into raw new wounds."

*** The Dragon Republic Spoilers included ***

I don't know what to say about this book. I'm a wreck. I feel like part of my soul has been sucked out of me, and I am no longer a functioning being. After finishing this book, I was in such shock, and I reread the last part so many times, and safe to say everytime it hurt just a little more.

After the ending of The Dragon Republic, the stakes were high for Rin. She is now part of the Southern Coalition, and her mission is to defeat Nezha and the Republic, a newly formed, and corrupted by the likes of imperialism, "democracy". He has betrayed her and she out for blood and vengeance. She also must get rid of the Federation forces occupying Nikan cities, including her hometown of Tikany. Rin is broken and changed by the cruelty of war, her descent into madness and paranoia, the mental toll this has taken on her, and other characters alike, is obvious.

While this was a marvelous book, and this series has absolutely one of my favorites, I also thought that some parts were unsatisfactory. The way it tied up loose ends with certain subplots more specifically. I would have liked for it to develop certain things more, but otherwise, my experience with this series was such a memorable one.

Yet, the plot was still splendid. We got more world-building which I appreciated. The writing is great per usual, and I would die for these characters, granted they survive long enough to give me the opportunity to do so of course.... The relationship between the characters own my heart entirely, the banter was amazing. I was living for the politics and all the issues it discussed, and overall, if you haven't read this series, you really need to.

It will break your heart into a million pieces but it is so worth it, and I recommend entirely. I am so glad to have picked this up, and I can't wait to read anything else R.F. Kuang writes. Literally anything, she has earned my undying loyalty. My pre-reading commentary (↓) applies now more than ever, so who's with me?

~ 4.5 stars

(Pre-reading 2/23/21)
Get in losers, we're going to therapy.

Profile Image for Maëlys.
297 reviews270 followers
January 19, 2021
☆ 5 / 5 ☆

“And if southerners were dirt like all the legends said, then they would crush their enemies with the overwhelming force of the earth until they could only dream of breathing. They would bury them with their bodies. They would drown them in their blood.”

This book is a tragedy in three acts and has left me thoroughly shattered. I kind of just want to quote the entirety of this book because I’m not quite sure how to do justice to how perfectly R.F. Kuang weaves all of these topics of war, abuse, colonisation, racism, colourism into this one book, this one series.

Rin has joined the Southern Coalition in their fight against the Republic led by Vaisra. She has to deal with her feelings of betrayal, the loss of her right hand and the phantom pains that come with that, and the leaders of the Southern Provinces still treating her as a weapon only. Rin seeks a greater power that could overthrow the Northern and Hesperian armies, to turn the tides for her and the South. She makes her way back to the Rooster Province, making new alliances and betting on her own power to chase the occupying forces out of her home and make this country hers, at whatever cost.

“In the end, it was always so easy to kill her heart. It didn’t matter that they looked like boys. That they were nothing, nothing like the monsters she had once known. In this war of racial totality, none of that mattered. If they were Mugenese, that meant they were crickets and that meant when she crushed them under her heel, the universe hardly registered their loss.”

In this book we can see Rin’s descent into a bloodlust that is her own and not her god’s. While the other books in the series have already shown what she is capable of, to what extent she is willing to go to win, and the trauma it brings with it, The Burning God shows Rin truly enjoying the act of killing. This war has gotten even more personal than it already was for her, she has nothing to lose, and she relishes in the power she holds on the battlefield, the sense of helplessness she feels in other situations leaving her just for a little bit.

Rin thrives on vengeance, on doing what she feels is right to rectify a history that has constantly put her and everything she represents down. She becomes the living embodiment of the South, of Speer, of their anger and resentment. It is a blood price to the people she belongs to, to reestablish an order where for once they wouldn’t be at the bottom. But she is also seeking revenge for herself; for the life she was handed, the cards she was dealt with, everything that was taken away from her time after time, for the friends she has lost, for her dreams that were crushed.

“The tides of history had shifted. She had never before believed in fate, but this she came to know with more and more certainty as each day passed: the script of the world was now wholly, inalterably colored by a brilliant crimson streak.”

Rin believes in her righteous path, in the inexorability of a winning destiny for her and the South. She believes the gods of the Pantheon are on her side, if not out of will but with their power. She believes fire and earth will win over water and over technology. It’s a war that takes on bigger proportions than this one cycle of colonialism and oppression, she wants to rewrite a history where for the first time people who look like her will stop being degraded and treated as lesser. She wants to break the cycle, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself.

Rin wants to win because winners get to rewrite history, to erase the narratives that don’t fit in with whatever new world view prevails. History has for too long erased the narratives of her people, of the dark-skinned women associated with pale-skinned men. She is the new iteration of a cyclic pattern of oppression and erasure and maybe she can be the one to dismantle these power dynamics, to tip them in her favour.

“They want to erase us. It’s their divine mandate. They want to make us better, to improve us, by turning us into a mirror of themselves. The Hesperians understand culture as a straight line.”

In this battle of ideologies, colonisation also implies a complete erasure of the current culture. It’s something insidious where the Hesperians depict themselves as saviours by just wanting to “make things better”, establishing that their ways, and by extension themselves, are superior. This can be seen in the ways they present their religion as the only valid one, dismissing the Nikaran gods as idiotic superstitions, but also in the architecture they’re putting down to raise their own buildings, in the Western clothing style being slowly adopted by the people of Nikan. Colonisation doesn’t stop at having military forces established, it also fundamentally changes and reshapes the daily and cultural lives of the occupied people. More privileged Nikarans are the first ones to adopt this new culture, wanting to portray themselves more like the coloniser, distancing themselves from the rest of their own people. The thing is that they’ll still never be respected by the Hesperians, or be truly considered one of them when it comes down to it. All it does is establish a structured hierarchy where the Hesperians will always be on top.

“I thought there was something inherently wrong with me,” she said. “That I was just born uglier, weaker, and less intelligent than everyone around me. I thought that, because that’s what everyone told me. And you’re arguing that means I had no right to defy them.”

Colourism is a topic people are uncomfortable talking about in any depth because they are uncomfortable checking their privilege; R.F. Kuang does not shy away from it. It is a quintessential part of this book series and Rin’s character. The treatment she’s received all her life has been anchored in colourism, the way she’s been seen as lesser, as automatically angrier, less intelligent and less competent. Arguing that the Hesperians are racially superior due to their technology advancements, as suggested by one of the characters, implies that everything Rin has been told about being lesser is also true. It’s the cascading effect of racism and colourism: the white Westerners are superior to the Nikarans, and in turn the pale-skinned Northerners are superior to the dark-skinned Southerners and Speerly. This book also showcases that privilege in light of the Hesperian occupation and how it only enhances this divide, how some features make a whole people more palatable to Westerners while others will only continue to suffer.

“It wasn’t about surrender. It was about the long game. It was about survival.”

Another running theme present in this book is one of survival. The survival of a country at war and how that can come from collaboration. Rin struggles with this notion and can only look at others making themselves more subservients as traitors. She has always been the underdog and it’s against her very own nature to consider a path where bending the knee, or pretending to for a while, as worthy. It’s a slow journey to understanding but she starts seeing the impact her uncompromising decisions have on the country and civilians.

“Then she left the memories alone. Interred here, they wouldn’t haunt her again. She always felt so clean afterward. Like the world was covered in stains and with every enemy she reduced to ash, it became just a little bit more pure.”

While the sheer repetition of the atrocities occurring make it easier to get used to them, to seem outwardly composed in the face of the agony of a country, Rin is still dealing with her trauma and her guilt, trying to lock away the horror and the memories that haunt her. As with the previous books in the series, we see the impact and trauma war brings on, and how it manifests itself differently with each person. In a powerful scene with Venka, Rin realises that they are linked by the trauma they both went through but that it is still different and their coping mechanisms are different too. They are all survivors, looking for some control, some power, and this is what Rin is looking for in new recruits, what the gods are looking for in their vessels.

“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.”

This instalment explores the cycle of abuse Rin is stuck in; the abuse she has suffered from as well as the abuse she has inflicted on others. More than ever she comes to terms with the abuse she has suffered from people she loved but she also becomes aware of the abuse others are suffering or have suffered from. She understands the patterns better and is able to recognise them in the Trifecta’s dynamic, in other dynamics of people in her life and in history. She sees them all around her and correlates them more easily to her relationship with Altan. It all slowly builds up to her understanding that she is perpetuating this cycle, she has become the abuser instead of the victim. It was so powerfully done as she reflects on her different actions, and while some of them can be passed off as necessary acts to win this war, others run deeper as they extend to the people she loves. It’s heartbreaking and one of the many layers of her character arc, another part of her willingness to do anything it takes.

“This was about demonstrating a change in loyalty, a gruesome apology by anyone who had ever spoken against her before. This was a blood sacrifice to a new figurehead.”

Rin is finding new powers and is learning how to yield something that isn’t magical but is, in the bigger scheme of things, infinitely more useful. She is finally taking leadership and bigger political and military power, the power that has been denied to her time and time again by older men, even though she was their strongest weapon, all because they could never bear to see someone like her hold any power. She has become a figurehead for their side of the war and she leans into that to bolster her troops and strengthen her authority.

“You can’t do this for me,” he said. “I won’t let you.” “It’s not for you. It’s not a favor. It’s the cruelest thing I could do.”

The relationship between Rin and Nezha is one that had me suffering endlessly. Theirs wasn’t a fight of ideologies necessarily but a fight between two people of extreme loyalty to their own people. And it was personal. The rage Rin feels towards Nezha is immense and yet, she still also feels that pull, that attraction, and finds it hard to want to kill him when she gets the opportunity. Their fight scenes in this book were exceptional as we finally see how fire and water fare against one another. It makes for breathtaking and cinematic scenes that are easy to visualise and be immersed in. Even when their shamanic powers become irrelevant, the shorter range fighting feels even more personal and intense. I think that their individual character arcs and how they impacted their relationship and dynamic were so well executed and I never doubted for one second that whatever happened to them would break my heart.

“She felt more alive than she’d ever been. Now she was three souls instead of one; now she was complete; now she was more.”

This instalment also lets us see some more from the Trifecta and their dynamic. The Trifecta are monsters and legends, and we see that aspect explored here, seeing them as weapons, as well as more of their vulnerabilities. The bond they share runs deep and intensely, not only from the magic but from the years they’ve spent together, and it all comes at a price. We see more of the abusive nature of their relationship and what brought on their downfall from power.

One of the things I couldn’t help noticing throughout the book was every instance of a person being buried alive and/or having that sensation. I truly didn’t know it was something I’d be sensitive to until this book and I had my eyes wide open to this recurring theme. While Shoutheners are constantly compared to dirt and linked to the earth and this definitely highlights the sheer power of numbers they have, I think this can also be seen as an allegory for oppression, of the burying of a country, a people, and a culture under colonisation.

One last much happier note: this doesn’t have to do with this book directly but r.f. Kuang has confirmed during a liveshow that Rin is bisexual and it makes my heart happy, and let’s be real the way Rin constantly talked about Su Daji makes all the sense in the world now :]

This series has easily become one of my favourite of all times. It is rare to find a book that explores war, racism, abuse, colourism and oppression so thoroughly and so blatantly. This book series makes you look at some of the fucked up shit that has happened in this world and keeps your gaze fixed on it, forces you to take it all in. It isn’t an easy read, it is visceral and all-encompassing, it doesn’t shy away from the hard topics, it isn’t scared to call out the trauma colonialism has brought to the world. This is a series I will reread without a doubt and seeing how much better R.F. Kuang has gotten as an author within the course of these three books, I can’t wait to see where she will take the rest of her writing career and I will await every book with a lot of excitement.


Buddy read with Melanie

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All quotes taken from ARC, refer to a finished copy.
Profile Image for Elle.
584 reviews1,252 followers
December 3, 2020
I don’t even know what to say. In a series that has consistently knocked the wind out of me, I know I shouldn’t be surprised that its grand finale has left me an empty void of emotion, but I’m in complete shock right now. Rebecca Kuang you utterly brilliant bastard, I hate how much I love you and your work.

This has been the year where so many of my favorite series have ended. The Daevabad Trilogy, The Arc of Scythe and now The Poppy War. But unlike some other authors, Kuang refuses to give her readers a neat and tidy resolution. Every victory comes at enormous cost, the edges jagged and torn instead of a cleanly cut. The world of The Burning God remains as unflinchingly brutal as her previous books, but just as beautifully crafted as well.

What I love most about this series is how harsh it is. And I don’t just mean violence and death, though there is plenty of that. God help the poor soul who goes into this series expecting a fun YA Fantasy, for whatever reason. But that harshness is in the story itself, not just the means of achieving various military goals. So much of writing, especially in fantasy, has to revolve around plotting. Creating problems for your characters to face is infinitely easier than actually solving them. It’s why a TV series like Lost or Game of Thrones can begin so amazingly and then completely fall apart at the end. You try to come up with the perfect solution to a complex set of problems without one, and inevitably end up failing to fully address any of them.

There’s a temptation to try and ‘do it all’: achieve a hero’s journey, provide complete redemption arcs, pay off fan service, etc. But in that it’s easy to lose what makes a story like this special in the first place, the willingness to be honest with your readers about the reality of most wars and conflicts. If you are looking for a series that gives you a feeling of resolution or catharsis, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. The Poppy War is a trilogy for those not seeking satisfaction, but truth. And the truth is that war may make for some great stories and legacies, but it fucking sucks to live through, whether you’re fighting or not. And it affects people unevenly based on class, gender, age, race, socio-economic status and proximity. It’s hard to fit all of that in a catchy battle anthem, though.

The pace of this book is one that mimics that reality as well. There’s a series of stops and starts, battles that happen quickly and bloody aftermaths that seem to linger. And just when it feels like things might be starting to stabilize the ground starts immediately shifting underneath your feet and you’re knocked off balance yet again. The perilousness of the natural & political environment that the characters are trying to navigate just highlights further how young, inexperienced and unstable those leading these military assignments are. It’s a constant reminder that Rin and even Kitay are not infallible, but traumatized soldiers just out of their teens, trying to struggle through a conflict that predates their involvement. They are but another chapter in a long, wrought history, and far from the final one.

I don’t know where this one ranks compared to the other two books. I don’t think anything will compare to the initial devastation I felt after reading The Poppy War. And the way The Dragon Republic sideswiped me near the end was just so well done. I think what I felt most from this book was the consequences. The Burning God is the eventuality that nobody should be shocked by but will inevitably feel like a kick in the gut. Made even more impactful because all of the pain and suffering is not manufactured but realistic.

I’m looking forward to the book Kuang is currently working on, a complete departure from this series, which will center around dark academia. Inspired by her time at Cambridge and Oxford, I’m very interested to see what she’s able to reveal under the harsh light in which she prefers to write.

Lol good luck Oxbridge—
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