Monday, August 12, 2019

A Sequel That Raised Its Stakes and Emotional Angst

Title: The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War, #2)
Author: R.F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: August 6th, 2019!
*eARC kindly provided by Harper Collins via NetGalley*

From Goodreads...
Rin’s story continues in this acclaimed sequel to The Poppy War—an epic fantasy combining the history of twentieth-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters.

The war is over.

The war has just begun.

Three times throughout its history, Nikan has fought for its survival in the bloody Poppy Wars. Though the third battle has just ended, shaman and warrior Rin cannot forget the atrocity she committed to save her people. Now she is on the run from her guilt, the opium addiction that holds her like a vice, and the murderous commands of the fiery Phoenix—the vengeful god who has blessed Rin with her fearsome power.

Though she does not want to live, she refuses to die until she avenges the traitorous Empress who betrayed Rin’s homeland to its enemies. Her only hope is to join forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who plots to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new republic.

But neither the Empress nor the Dragon Warlord are what they seem. The more Rin witnesses, the more she fears her love for Nikan will force her to use the Phoenix’s deadly power once more.

Because there is nothing Rin won’t sacrifice to save her country . . . and exact her vengeance.

My Review!
I hesitate to say that I love these books. And not because they’re not good, but because they’re about terrible people who do terrible things. There is literally no one who is good. No one who is purely in the right. Everyone’s been touched by the wars; everyone’s looking out for themselves, first and foremost. There are always hidden motivations and ambitions, and you don’t know who you can trust. Like. The Poppy War was fucking dark. It was hard and grueling, even when it was just about a girl who tested into the most ruthless academy in the country. But when the Third Poppy War began, it just got worse. It was hate and cruelty and people who lost their humanity and people who never had it to begin with. It was what happens when you strip away all that is good and kind, and you bring out the worst in each other. You thought that was bad? The Dragon Republic is even more horrible.

This one was almost more heavy, in a sense, because it was about the aftermath of war. It was thousands starving and displaced, soldiers trying to run from their nightmares, and good people dealing with their choices and the things that happened to them in the past. It was almost worse, because the war doesn’t end. The enemies and allies just shift, and the cowardly and stupid Warlords can’t stop bickering long enough to help their own people. And Daji. Daji sold out her own country for reasons unknown, and now Rin is doing her absolute best to take her down. But Rin is stuck in the past, barely surviving, cut off from her Phoenix god and the fire that makes her feel in control. Buried so deep in her own grief and anger over Altan, and what happened to him, that she can’t see beyond her own desires. Her own feelings. She’s fed on her hatred for so long, it’s all she truly knows.

And I’ll be honest. There were times that this book almost lost me. Because I didn’t really get the infatuation with Altan. I felt like I didn’t get to know him, because he left the school after he graduated, and then he becomes a too-young Commander of a group of shamans who need his help to survive, because they can’t face their gods on their own. We only saw the vengeful Altan, the warrior, the guy who couldn’t handle the power without burning himself up in the process. When Nezha called him Rin’s abuser, he wasn’t completely wrong. Altan did some awful shit to her, and I don’t think the story necessarily wanted you to be okay with that. But I wasn’t here for Rin’s bullshit because of it. She was so cruel sometimes, so ignorant and uncaring of everyone else’s feelings, that I started to dislike her a little bit. But she’s always been vicious, and I love that, I really do.

I love that this series has such morally gray characters, and absolute villains who know they’re villains but don’t give a fuck. I’m not talking about the loathsome assholes, but the ones like Daji and Moag and yes, Vaisra. I love books that tackle these big questions and morals, that make you rethink everything you know about what it means being human. These characters are ruthless, and they feel. They feel deeply, and they aren’t afraid to show that. I just couldn’t always get behind the fact that it was war after war after war. That it was putting all of these people who have been through SO MUCH and who are still reeling from the Federation in another horrible situation. For so long, they felt like they were winning, and they celebrated. And I just couldn’t help but think: these victories are hollow because the people are so defeated they can’t put up any resistance. 

But don’t worry, there’s Kitay, the one person who always sees the truth. The shrewdly intelligent kid who just needed a purpose, a place to put all of his anger toward because then he didn’t have to feel all of his grief and the losses, didn’t have to think about Golyn Niis again. I still can’t get over what the Federation did to that city and its people. So I was SUPER glad The Dragon Republic didn’t shy away from showing PTSD and the effects of war. Everyone is dealing with it in their own way, even if it’s a shit way (re: Rin). And Venka!! My DARLING. I love that she got more page-time, that she wasn’t just brushed aside. Come to think of it, no one is brushed aside. People who were around for even a tiny bit end up becoming bigger players in the end. Or my favorites DIE. SUNI. BAJI. I’m still upset about Ramsa’s death, though. I don’t think I will ever get over that one. *sobs*

I also missed the fuck out of Jiang. I really think he and Daji will either a) team up in the 3rd book or b) fight each other to the possible death. And since the Dragon Emperor didn’t actually die, my theory is that his god took over his mind and body, and he’s the grotto dragon that has been sucking the life out of Nezha since he was a kid. There’s something about the Trifecta that isn’t nearly over yet. They are at the heart of this, and there is no way that Daji won’t want to destroy the Hesperians. She and Rin are DEFINITELY gonna team up at some point. And I need way more background about the three. There wasn’t enough in here for me, though it was great to see how it all started with them and just how corrupted the power made them. But I NEED to know more; I have a hunger. And really, I just want Jiang back!! BRING HIM BACK!! AND CHAGHAN, MY LOVE!

There is so much going on underneath the main plot, and everything feels like it just keeps building up toward that finale. But I still don’t know where it’s gonna go, or how it’ll shape up. And that worries the fuck out of me. Like I said, you can’t trust ANYONE. You think there’s one true enemy for so long until you realize that another didn’t leave, or that you actually had to worry about the one that seemed so benevolent and just. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to move on from this story and these characters. I’m writing this review a few hours after I finished it, because I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. I literally gasped aloud over the Dragon Emperor theory that popped into my head after I was trying and failing to sleep. I’m not going to survive the 3rd book, I already know this. Good thing I’ll have to wait a long-ass time to read it because I’M NOT READY!


Friday, August 9, 2019

Why Am I Not Blogging? Good Question!

Actually no one has asked me this, but I like the title and find it funny. Because you know what? It IS a good question! Maybe I'll have an answer for it!

To be quite honest, I've fallen out of love with blogging itself. Not the books, not the community, not the content I've liked creating over the years. Just. Blogging. I feel like I've had my run with it. I went as far as I could. Worked with SO many authors and publishers over the years, collaborated with other bloggers on fun projects. Made friends. Found a safe space on Twitter (it's still a hellsite, but it's my favorite hellsite). Did a lot of social media stuff, got super obsessed with The 100, got back into rereading and got a hunger for nonfiction. Became a better person, but I'm still learning. Still trying. Started becoming more active regarding politics. Have traveled by myself multiple times for different events and conferences. (I should stop before this becomes a Farewell post. not quite yet, Holly. not quite yet).

So I almost feel like I'm letting the few people down who still like my blog. LOL. But the truth of the matter is that 2019 has just been. A lot. It's not been the best, and I'm basically working two jobs right now, and I've been in such a massive reading slump. Because I've never been good at balance, and it's been hard getting into a schedule that'll work for me. But I'm doing what I can, when I can, and trying not to feel guilty when I'm having some downtime off writing. Trying not to feel like a failure for the lack of content here, even when I've managed a few good posts for most of this year. Trying to gather the courage to actually let my little corner of this blogging world go. Anyway, I just wanted to let you guys know what's been going on a bit in my life, so here's the short versions:

Writing became a second job
This is the biggest reason why I haven't blogged much this year. If y'all remember, I got more serious about my writing in the last few years. And when I finished books, that meant a lot of fucking work. Both in the drafting process and revision process, and the processes that came after them. So I didn't have the energy left over to write SOME MORE. It was almost too much writing, even though blogging is for fun. (Not that books aren't fun to write, but they're also WORK). I know I'm going to hate that I'm no longer keeping up with cover reveals and new releases as well, but I just can't do it all. And I'm okay with that, in most regards? Writing is what I want. It's my dream. It had to take precedence over my hobby. But I've definitely been a little sad about not posting. This was all I did for nearly 7 years.

By the by, that writing contest I won? You can now read my short story on Megan Shepherd's website! Just download your preferred format and enjoy. I've read most of them (still have to get to the last two) and they are all so great! I definitely encourage you to give them a try. 😊

My actual job has become a hellscape
I literally cannot remember the last time I had pure, honest fun at this company. It's become the biggest stressor in my life, and the worst part is, I really don't think I'd get another job that could give me the time and energy I need to write part-time. Because of my schedule, I have either 3 or 4 days a week off, and that's so much writing time. So I'm forcing myself to stay in an unhappy situation because it's helping work toward my dream faster. At some point, it's not gonna cut it, but I can't quit this place. Even though I hate my supervisor and people keep pissing me off and I'm not valued as much as I should be. Even though there's like no one left to hangout with after work and vent to about the bullshit. Ugh, it's just such a pain, and it's destroying my soul.

My personal life hasn't changed all that much, but it's noticeably different
Most of my friends from work have either come and gone or switched shifts or departments so now I only see them once in a blue moon. That's part of the reason work has been a hellscape, on top of everything else. But my mental health has been NOT GREAT and I've just tried to like take a few good steps toward betterment? It sucks when something is difficult to do even when you know it's for the best. I really do need to do something MORE about it, but depression makes everything so hard. Like that old adage of making mountains out of molehills. That's how it feels. I'd also talk about some more things, but I'm not quite ready to lay out everything. I've always prided myself on how open and honest I am here, so it feels a bit disingenuous, but in due time.

It's basically been a combination of the three. Mental health, work, and writing. And the fact that I don't really WANT to write reviews anymore. They stopped being fun, so I just write what I want to on Goodreads, even if it's just a few sentences. I also knew I'd want to stop reviewing in general when I became an author, but why not just do it now, you know? I'm still obviously gonna be talking about books I love on social media but I'm not doing what I've done for the last 7 years. So I'm scheduling my probable last review (for The Dragon Republic) for this month, and then? I don't know! I'm hoping to get a writing website up-and-running soon, and maybe have a little blog spot just for the purpose of talking about books I haven't shouted enough about. Because who said I had to stop doing that? 😏