Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Book Review - "The Burning God" by R. F. Kuang


First off, I must say that Rebecca Kuang is a brilliant writer. It takes someone with serious talent to pull off this very complicated history-fantasy plot with myriads of characters. She seemed to have done it effortlessly. She has my admiration.

This final volume The Burning God of The Poppy War trilogy takes readers through another roller-coaster of endless bloodsheds and gore and hatred. Rin has evolved into a recalcitrant and power-obsessed general who is becoming more and more cold-blooded in her blind strife for revenge against domestic foes (Vaisra Yin and Nezha Yin and their Republic) and foreign ones (Hesperians) alike.

In her desperation, she leads her Southern Army to trek through rough terrain all the way to Mount Tianshan to seek help from Riga the shaman tyrant (the long trek parallels Mao Zedong’s famous long march), but the quest is fruitless. Undaunted, Rin heads straight to Nezha’s military base in his hometown Arlong to challenge his protector the Dragon god. She wins the battle, forcing Nezha to flee to Speer Island. She also sees Nezha as an involuntary puppet at Hesperia’s beck and call. But she finds no loyalty from the Arlong people. Paranoia begins to set in. She heads south to her own hometown Tikany in search for support, but what awaits her is a war-weary and destitute populace. She decides on a face-off with Nezha on Speer Island.

The entire series explores themes of obsession with and illusion of power, racism, class bigotry, cultural conflicts and values gap between nations. The wide range seems a tad ambitious.

I found this third and final volume a bit tedious at times, especially when reading repetitive expressions of melodramatic emotions and reactions of the protagonist. I’ve always had an aversion to series, because the narrative often tends to drag unnecessarily just to fill pages (which translates into higher profit for publishers). This is also true of this trilogy, notwithstanding plot complexities and colorful characters, especially when each of the three books is over 600 pages long. I would definitely have liked it better if the story was condensed into just two volumes.

Specifically, the long trek to Mount Tianshan in this final volume, which is chronologically inaccurate from history’s perspective anyway, seems to have been inserted as a page filler in an afterthought, rather than developed organically from the narrative flow.

I’m giving this Book #3 of the trilogy 3.4 stars, rounded down.

Overall, the average rating for the whole series is 4.13 stars.


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