*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
This review will be spoiler-free for The Burning God, but will mention content that will be spoiler-ish to the two previous books in the series, The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic.
Betrayed once again, Rin returns home to the southern provinces of Nikara and begins to take her own stand for her future. The people of the South are fighting two battles: one with the stranded Mugen soldiers and another with the Dragon Warlord. Rin can help, but she faces even more difficulty as the Southern Coalition aren’t too happy with her arrival. But the common people rise behind her, and she quickly realises that power is within the people who are done with being treated as fodder. But will Rin be strong enough to resist the Phoenix who calls for her to burn the world, along with everyone she loves with it? As she begins to grow her army, Rin must make her final stand against the Hesperians, or lose her country to colonisers once again.
I remember reading TPW for the first time back in 2018. It was exhilarating and one of the best books I had ever read. (Still is one of the best books I’ve ever read.) Kuang makes her mark with this series, and in this finale, the stakes are higher than ever before. And I can now confirm that The Poppy War trilogy is one of the best series I have ever had the privilege to read. This trilogy is just pain in three acts. Not one of the books falter, and Rin’s story remains incredible and deeply saddening at the same time.
Rin has come so far from where her story begins in The Poppy War. A young teen, desperate to run from an arranged marriage. She secures one of the most coveted spots in the entire country. There she learns of her past and discovers her connection to the Gods. She comes of age and burns an entire country overnight. In The Dragon Republic, devasted by the loss of Altan, she rallies behind the Dragon Warlord who promises a brighter future. But they stab her in the back and offer her up as a science project to the Hesperians who are determined to wipe out all existence of shamans like Rin. Now, in The Burning God, Nikara has truly been ravaged, and its survival rate is slowly dwindling. Rin has gone up against the Mugenese, the Hesperians and the Gods, and she has survived it all. She has been through so much, and you can really feel her fury and hatred towards all her enemies. She has now come to terms with everything she has faced: the abuse, the trauma and the dynamics of her life and the history that came before it all. And how her actions are consolidating the future that is to come. The realisation of what has been done to her and what she is doing right now is done so, so well. All she’s ever wanted was power, but maybe it’s not enough.
This trilogy would not be what it is without the characters within. Kuang isn’t afraid to do daring things, pushing some of our favourite characters to the brink and pulling them right back. Kitay remains by Rin’s side, now linked to Rin as a way to help gain control of her powers. For Rin to fight, Kitay must live. Their relationship is sweet, a reminder to Rin of what she’s fighting for. But their opinions clash heavily as Rin propels towards a future Kitay can’t see. Nezha and Rin’s relationship is one of the best I’ve ever read. They begin hating each other with pure rage, Nezha at the sight of a Southerner rising above her expected place, while Rin refuses to let another person look down on her ever again. Nezha has once called it child’s play, but now, it’s war. With Rin in the South and Nezha, backing his father in the North. The emotional battle between them is exceptional and paired with the near cinematic fight scenes, and you’re reminded that despite their sides, they were always loyal to each other. Their dynamic is unparalleled.
The trilogy is heavily inspired by themes of war, colonisation, genocide. The political and social commentary is so clearly reflected in our own history. You can clearly see its effect throughout the entire trilogy, but in The Burning God, it hits so deeply. War might have always been present in Nikara, but the Hesperian influence is terrifying. They promise equality, but what they want is for them to submit. They way they overtake everything, convincing the people of Nikara that it’s for the greater good, that their culture is simply the wrong one is a real-life tactic from our own history.
The Burning God is truly an epic and magnificent conclusion to an all-star trilogy. Kuang writes effortlessly, and with prose that had me speeding through over 600 pages like it was nothing. I’m so sad to say goodbye to the world of Nikara. Kuang has created something truly unforgettable here. A country that has been pulled apart and rebuilt many times over and Rin intends to keep it under Nikara’s influence for good. But her plans might be too ambitious for the people it’s meant to protect. This is a difficult ending, but, honestly, it’s the best ending you can get.