Title: The Burning God
Author: R.F. Kuang
Rating: 5/5 stars
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?
This is seriously one of the best series endings I have ever read. It felt inevitable, and even though it made my chest physically ache, it felt like the perfect ending for the series.
It’s going to be really hard for me to talk about this book without spoiling anything, but I promise this review will be spoiler free! I’ll probably have a discussion post up later that will get into spoiler territory.
One of the things I loved about this series is how it is technically a fantasy series but is so undeniably rooted in our real world history. Colonialism and its traumas, genocide, war, political scheming, mistrust of people who don’t look like you…so much of this series delves deeply and unflinchingly into these very difficult topics and uses the veneer of fantasy to critique and acknowledge how all of these forces shape the world we live in.
Where The Poppy War was about war and genocide against invaders, The Dragon Republic was about political instability and dreams of a more democratic government, The Burning God is about civil war and shifting alliances. It is thematically the most complex of the three books, and also I think the most deftly written. I highlighted so many passages because of what they had to say about these large forces but also about characters and the growth they have undergone throughout the series.
One of the hardest things to read about in this book was also the driver of many of my favorite scenes in this book. It’s heartbreaking when two characters who used to be on the same side are now irrevocably pitted against each other, but the cinematic and epic scale of the battles in this book were incredible! We’ve seen Rin’s self-destructive behavior and incendiary personality throughout the series, but now it is at an all time high. There were some scenes that took my breath away because it was so empowering and fulfilling to see her reach her full potential, and other scenes that broke my heart to see how Rin kept falling prey to the same weaknesses and self-sabotage that she’s been succumbing to throughout the series. Kitay remains one of my favorite characters of the series, and he really has transformed from the quiet, scholarly boy in The Poppy War to an iron-willed young man whose contributions to the war effort could truly never have been achieved by anyone else. There were some new characters that I also really liked, but I can’t say much about them without spoiling things!
Not only was this book emotionally and thematically satisfying, it was incredibly well-written and I really admire RF Kuang’s growth as a writer in this series. The Burning God is much more complex than the previous books and deals with such heavy topics, and at times it was difficult to read. As much as you love Rin and want her to succeed, you know that she is, at the end of the day, the anti-hero of the series. At the same time, you kind of want everyone you have grown to love to succeed even though they are on opposing sides. I think it takes a truly skilled author to make you want to root for a character even as you watch the inevitable trainwreck of the decisions they’ve been making, and hope that they will come to their senses.
I cannot recommend this series enough!
A free e-ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.