Why You Need to Read: “The Burning God”

The Poppy War Trilogy, #3: The Burning God

By: R.F. Kuang                                                                       Audiobook: 23 hours 47 minutes

Published: November 17, 2020                                              Narrated by: Emily Woo Zeller

Genre: Historical Fantasy, Grimdark, Military Fantasy, Folklore

            What was wrong with her? She’d started and ended wars. She’d buried a god. She’d incinerated a country. There wasn’t an entity on the planet that could face her in a fair fight and win. She was certain of her own strength; she’d sacrificed everything to make sure she never felt powerless again. 

            So why was she so afraid? (Chapter Eight). 

            History presents war with selections to choose from; some wars are revolutions, some wars are civil, some wars are invasions, and so on and so forth. The surface of war may be simple, but the layers run so deep it’s difficult to determine the alliances and the motivations for it. Not to mention, war affects EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. The Burning God—the third and final book in The Poppy War Trilogy—by R.F. Kuang, delves into the power and the warfare of a war that doesn’t seem to end. 

            Fang Runin “Rin” is still alive, but she’s without her troops, her allies, and her hand. Betrayed again by those who wanted to use her powers as a shaman for their goals, Rin decides to return to her home province in the south in order to liberate them from both the Dragon Republic and the Hesperians. There, she learns that her past actions have turned her into a living legend amongst the common people. And, they want to fight with her. Rin’s friends are Kitay, her friend from Sinegard, and Venka, her classmate and her former rival turned ally. Then, there’s Nezha, the son of the Dragon Lord, who is serving his family’s cause instead of Rin’s. While Nezha is Rin’s opponent, he isn’t the only antagonist Rin has to kill in order to liberate Nikan. However, will her new alliances led to more betrayal? Rin continues to develop in a way so that we can still root for her while trying to overlook the numerous atrocities she commits for liberation and for revenge. In Rin’s case, you can’t have one without the other. 

            Similar to the first 2 books in the trilogy, there are 3 parts in The Burning God; and, each part focuses on the antagonist(s) Rin must defeat to claim victory once and for all. Part I has Rin, Kitay, Venka, and what remains of their army marching into the Southern Provinces to liberate them from the Dragon Republic. Rin returns to Tikany for the first time since she left for Sinegard, and what she discovers there strengthens her conviction to transform Nikan into an independent nation. Rin’s new army consists of the common people and those who rebelled against the Dragon Republic. From them, Rin and her army are taught about elements of war that they didn’t learn at Sinegard. It turns out, guerilla warfare works for revolutionary purposes. But, what about against an invading nation? 

            Part II has Rin betrayed (again) and separated from her friends. From here, Rin makes an uneasy alliance with one of the last individuals she expected to see again. However, Rin knows this alliance this the only way to defeat both the Dragon Lord—Yin Vaisra, Nezha’s father—and the Hesperian fleet. During the march to regroup Rin’s troops and to rescue her friends, Rin learns the truth about her shaman powers and the Trifecta. Now, Rin has to decide where and who her loyalty lies with, and whether or not the end justifies the means.

            Part III has Rin and her army at full force. Rin, Kitay and Venka defeat all of their enemies and have liberated Nikan. However, the end of the war isn’t over until all hostile forces either surrender or die. In addition, Nikan has been ravaged by war for so long that there is no short-term plan for the survivors to carry on living. On top of that, Rin has the power and the recognition she always wanted, but like each war leader in (our) history, Rin struggles to maintain power and control for herself. All Rin has to do is weed out the remnants of her enemies—including Nezha—and find a resource to make Nikan self-sufficient in the years to come. Unfortunately, war is NOT a game, and it doesn’t end until all of the foes from one side are dead. 

            In addition to the plots in each Part in the novel, there are several subplots which enhance both the narrative and the character development. Some of the subplots include: the destruction of Speer, the fragility of the Trifecta, the Yin Family, Rin’s return to Tikany, and shamanism. All of the subplots tie in the plots of this story as it reaches its end. The characters’ story arcs end in ways that match the mood of the series, which is a combination of shocking and appropriate. Not only do these subplots wrap up the plots going back to the first book in the series, but also presents the conflicts all of the characters face throughout (and before) it. 

            The narrative is in 3rd person limited, which means readers learn everything going on from Rin’s point-of-view and from her stream-of-consciousness. The latter is essential because readers are able to understand why Rin makes the choices—both good and bad—throughout the narrative. It should be mentioned that there are a Prologue, an Epilogue, and 2 Chapters which are not told from Rin’s P.O.V. These serve as memory sequences which enhance the story and the conflicts, and lets readers know what Rin is up against. The narrative is what drives the story; it is well-written, and it can be followed by the readers easily. 

            The style R.F. Kuang uses in The Burning God brings The Poppy War Trilogy to a full circle. As the author ends the series, she reintroduces everything from The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic in order to remind her readers about the cost and the effect of war. In addition, this finale presents grimdark through a historical lens. After the release of The Dragon Republic, Kuang announced the historical figure Rin was supposed to represent. Anyone who is familiar with what happened in China after the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), knows what Rin’s victory could mean for Nikan. The mood in this novel is puissance; it is a non-stop power struggle from start to end. The tone in this novel is the evanescence of power; the effects of war last much longer than an individual’s power and influence. 

            The appeal for The Burning God have been positive. Fans and readers who have stuck with this series will not be disappointed with the story’s conclusion. Fans of historical fantasy, military fiction and revenge stories—The Priory of the Orange Tree, The Rage of Dragons and Nevernight, respectively—will enjoy this book (and series) the most. There have been criticism of this book due to the realistic violence portrayed throughout the trilogy. However, this portrayal of warfare and of violence is the reality within the fiction, sadly. As I mentioned in a previous post, this series is the most similar to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series—and, maybe Joe Abercrombie’s books (I haven’t read them yet, but I will very soon)—so, his fans might enjoy this series as well. I listened to the audiobook edition of this book, and the narrator, Emily Woo Zeller, did an amazing job.

            The Burning God is a blazing finale to a series that started off as a school fantasy, transformed into a military historical fantasy, and ends as a grimdark series. R.F. Kuang delivers a powerful end to a series with Asian roots and influence. Do not wait as long as I did to read this book, you have no idea on what you’re missing out on. 

My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!

P.S. Thank you Sasha for getting me to finish this trilogy through out buddy read!

13 comments on “Why You Need to Read: “The Burning God”

  1. Sahi says:

    Such a wonderful review Misty !!! This is such a memorable trilogy. As someone who tries to avoid grimdark books very much, I was very skeptical to read this series at first, but once I started, I knew it was gonna be special. And when I read the references section in the first book, I immediately went researching atleast some basics about the second Sino-Japanese war, the civil war later and everything else that happened during that time. I think knowing the history really affected the way I felt about this finale in particular, and also was horrified about how much more had happened during that time in reality .

    Liked by 1 person

    • aquavenatus says:

      It’s scary how much almost gets left out in history.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sahi says:

        I know right … I was shocked when I read about it all because the fact remains that China is India’s neighboring country and I didn’t know anything about their history.. our ww2 history here was also so focused on Europe that we forgot Asia.. it’s unfortunate how much we don’t know about the world around us and what everyone has suffered..

        Liked by 1 person

      • aquavenatus says:

        At my high school, we were “briefed” about the Rape of Nanking and Mao Zedong, but nothing else. Pop culture did a better job informing me about those events, which is why Kuang’s announcement about Rin freaked me out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sahi says:

        I don’t think I even heard of Nanking before reading TPW… and probably just knew the name of Mao and nothing about the kind of leader he turned out to be.. reading these history based fantasy books in recent times have made me learn so much than I ever did in school…

        Liked by 1 person

      • aquavenatus says:

        This is why I wrote that essay for the SFWA; and, why so many Americans are “concerned” about Critical Race Theory. The truth always resurfaces.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sahi says:

        The whole mess about CRT is so disingenuous.. everyone knows they just don’t want real history to be taught but come up with all kinds of justifications to stop so called “CRT”… bunch of liars and hypocrites to be honest…

        Liked by 1 person

      • aquavenatus says:

        Did you hear what happened to Jerry Craft? He was supposed to be at an event in Texas, but parents & teachers claimed that his books, graphic novels for children, were promoting CRT and forced the cancellation of the event.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sahi says:

        Yes I did… I haven’t read his books but it’s so obvious that none of these people have even read the books before advocating for its ban and cancellation of his event… it’s like they are so scared that their children will learn the truth and start thinking about equality…

        Liked by 1 person

      • aquavenatus says:

        Or, that their children will see them as themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sahi says:

        That too… it’s so unfortunate… and definitely foreboding troubling times ahead…

        Liked by 1 person

      • aquavenatus says:

        Another movement is coming.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. i need to get a move on and finish this series! i loved the first one

    Liked by 1 person

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