R.F. Kuang – The Dragon Republic 


The story takes off right after the destruction of Mugen. The Cike are in the employ of Moag the pirate queen. Tasked with the assassination of high placed government officials, Rin takes her first swing at leadership as the new commander of the Cike. Once every official is crossed off of Moags hit list, she will provide the Cike with a ship and the weapons they need to assassinate the empress. 

Complete summary (with spoilers)

During one of their missions the Cike are intercepted by Nezha and his father, the dragon warlord Yin Vaisra. He offers them a position in his army and tells them of his plans to overthrow the Empire in favor of a democratic Republic. At first Rin is skeptical, wondering how one province can stand against the might of the empire. But considering the size of Vaisra’s fleet, she is soon convinced that this might be the easiest way to exact revenge on the empress. After officially joining the Dragon Republic, Vaisra commands Rin to regain her sobriety, cutting her off from all opium. After a heavy period of withdrawal, Rin and Vaisra discuss an assassination opportunity. During this conversation, Vaisra compliments Rin multiple times. This feeds into Rin’s weakness, her need for appraisal. From this moment on Rin becomes dedicated to Vaisra’s cause, ever seeking his approval.   

After a failed assassination attempt at the Autumn Palace, Su Daji and the other warlords become aware of Vaisra’s plan to overthrow the Empire. The Southern warlords decide to join Vaisra and a civil war ensues. During this time Rin finds out Vaisra has been preparing for years, even involving the Hesperians for support. Their help however, doesn’t come cheap. A Hesperian delegation has come the Dragon Province capital Arlong to investigate whether the Nikara are ready for civilization. Only offering their aid if proven so.  

Following a period of deliberation and strategization the Dragon Republic’s fleet is sent up North to conquer towns and cities along the Miuri river. They are accompanied by the Hesperian delegation and led by Yin Jinzha, Vaisra’s oldest son. After a long journey and several minor battles the thus far victorious fleet arrives at Boyang. Here they are confronted by the Imperial Navy and a war over water ensues. After some time Feylen appears and Rin discovers he’s been recruited by the empress. The Republic proves no match for the wind God and loses the battle, sinking their ships. Rin, Chaghan, Qara and Kitay manage to get away safely, only to be captured by the Ketreyids shortly after. Their leader, the Sorqan Sira, turns out to be Chaghan and Qara’s aunt. She’s a powerful Hinterland shaman who shares the origin story of the Trifecta with Rin. They were given access to the Pantheon and their Gods by the Hinterlanders, but instead of using their powers for good they betray their teachers and murder the Sorqan Sira’s daughter. Deciding they have the same enemy, the Sorqan Sira offers to help Rin break the Seal placed on her by the empress. This is partly effective but doesn’t give Rin access to the fire, the only way this can be done is by creating an anchor bond. The anchor will function as a conduit to her powers, it’s a vessel through which Rin can access her God. Kitay volunteers and after the bonding ritual is completed the group decides to head back to Arlong. However, a coup is orchestrated by the Sorqan Siras’s son Bekter, killing her and Qara in the process. Chaghan now has to hasten back to the Hinterlands, informing his clan of the coup and preventing a war from happening. 

Afterwards Rin and Kitay travel back to Arlong. Here Rin confronts Nezha, accusing him of being too cowardice to use his shamanic powers resulting in the death of his brother at Boyang. Nezha retorts by calling all shaman abominations, agreeing with the Hesperians. 

In the meantime, a lot of Southern refugees have fled to Arlong because of the remaining Federation troops terrorizing the South. Here they live under dire circumstances, not given enough supplies by Yin Vaisra. The Southern Warlords have taken up the Mugenese threat with Vaisra but he doesn’t listen, not valuing the lives of Southerners. Later on the Southern warlords lure Rin to an abandoned shipyard to tell her that Vaisra and the Hesperians knew the Mugenese would attack Nikan. They might have even orchestrated it in order to weaken the Empire, making it easy to conquer. They urge her to defect and ask her to fight for them, emphasizing that she is a Southerner as well. Rin doesn’t believe them. Furthermore she doesn’t want to associate with the Southerners. She had long since tried to kill her connection to Rooster province, a place that gave her few happy memories.  

After Rin relays this information to Kitay, he thinks it over and tells Rin that they’re probably right. Vaisra has clearly been preparing for this war for a long time, building a fleet and forming long lasting connections with the Hesperians. This also explains Hesperian passivity during the Poppy Wars. Together they decide to flee Arlong, but first a battle needs to be fought. After Boyang, the empress expanded her fleet and now it’s coming south to end the Republics uprising. During the fight, Rin is able to defeat Feylen by burying him under a mountain. Furthermore the Hesperians come to the Republics aid, toppling the battle in their favor. The empress and several of her followers manage to get away but they haven’t been defeated yet.  

In the following days, the Republic celebrates their victory but the Southern warlords do not attend. On the evening before Kitay and Rin’s planned escape, Nezha invites them to have a drink. After getting Rin drunk and alone, Nezha stabs her in the back. She wakes up in chains and finds out that Vaisra betrayed her, handing her over to the Hesperians for examination. Luckily Kitay manages to free her and they flee on one of Moags pirate ships. Here they find out that Vaisra murdered several of the Southern warlords and only the Monkey warlord Gurubai managed to escape. Together they must find a way to stop Vaisra and the Hesperians.  

Character Analysis 

In this second book we clearly see some character changes in Rin. Where she was still learning in the first book, she has now become a battle hardened soldier. The atrocities she’s seen and the people she has lost have had a heavy impact on her and she seems to suffer from PTSD. She never feels safe, has malicious memories that manifest without warning and experiences survivors guilt. To make life bearable she numbs herself using opium. Once under the employ of Vaisra however he cuts her off, explaining that he needs her sober and in control of her wonderful powers. The compliments he gives her feed into an old yearning for validation and she soon becomes addicted to Vaisra’s approval. She will do anything for his praise without asking questions. By simply following orders, Rin also makes sure she isn’t responsible for her actions and their consequences. She doesn’t want to think because she doesn’t want to feel. She wants to be used; she is looking for someone to give her orders and a purpose. It is a way of dissociating from what she has done and al the lives she took. This also makes her vulnerable to manipulations and indoctrinations. For example, Rin has a hard time discarding Hesperian faith because if she sees her actions as a product of Chaos she isn’t accountable. She wants to believe because Makerism offers her a way to repent for her wrongdoings. Makerism however also rebuts the existence of the sixty-four Nikaran deities, something Rin knows to be true and therefore should help her repudiate this ideology. 

As Rin develops as an individual, so does her character. When at first personality traits like disinhibition and antagonism define her, she now tends to lean more towards psychoticism. Psychotic individuals tend to be eccentric, have perceptual problems, display risk-taking behavior and have obsessive-compulsive inclinations. Their behavior can be attributed to a need for immediate gratification, regardless of the consequences. They refuse to conform to social norms. In Rin we clearly see this after the battle at Xiashang. She demands the execution of all survivors, referring to them as traitors. When it becomes apparent that nobody agrees with her, she continues to press her point and even tries to assault her commander. She seeks instant revenge, not caring about all the innocent lives lost in a mass execution.  

Historical Context

In the second book of the Poppy War series, Hesperia plays a more prominent role. Based off of early 20th century Western Europe, several similarities are found. One of the most notable is the Hesperian religion known as Makerism. Their church, the Order of the Holy Maker, preaches the existence of a singular deity (The Maker) and one source of destruction, Chaos. When a human body dies, their soul is brought to the realm of the Maker. This is a beautiful land free from Chaos, it is a kingdom of perfect order without pain, disease or suffering. In the novel Rin muses that she now understands why Makerism became popular among the Nikara people, revealing that after this life a second, more supreme life follows. This shares a direct link with Christianity. During the Age of Discovery, Western Europeans sent missionaries to spread the word of God throughout China. Their goal was to enlighten the people and convert them to Christianity. After the First and Second Opium Wars missionary activity increased significantly and within the next twenty years nearly every major city in China held missionaries. In reality the missionaries were met with more opposition though. Especially the elite resented Western ethical principles. This was reinforced by their fear to lose power if the Bible became more influential. Aside from the elite, anti-Christianism was also popular amongst unemployed village men. Many of them were trained martial artists and during their fights they claimed to be spiritually possessed, often chanting incantations to deities. Chinese spirit possession involves the channeling of deities who are then invited to possess the body of the channeler and control their behavior. This would grant them invulnerability and superhuman skills with sword and spear. The most well-known channelers or shaman came together to organize the Boxer Rebellion. This resembles shamanism as described in the novel. Furthermore, the deities the author mentions share characteristics with actual Chinese mythological deities. The Snail Goddess Nüwa for example appears to be based on the Mother Goddess Nüwa, creator of humanity. Additionally, the Vermillion Bird of the South, also known as the Phoenix, appears similar to the Fire God of South Zhurong.

The Dragon Republic is the second novel in the Poppy War Trilogy. Here, the story expands and a large new influence is added; the Hesperians. Based on the British Empire and their colonial aspirations, the Hesperians aim to exploit the rich natural resources and establish dominance and control over the Nikaran people.

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