R F Kuang - Shastrix Books

R F Kuang

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Babel

Babel

R F Kuang

28th October 2022

I feel under qualified to review this book in every possible way.

It’s a story of a young man, unexpectedly transported away from everything he knows, to be educated in languages and magic by a British professor with mysterious motives.

But it’s also the story of an oppressive regime, applying systematic racism despite relying entirely on the subjugated people to enforce it.

It’s a story of being out of place, of betrayal, of desire, of rebellion.

Kuang is a genius, and has managed to construct a story and characters who are compelling, engaging, who you desperately want to spend time with, and who you empathise with so much. She paints a picture of a world which despite the fantasy elements is so clearly our own, and points out so many flaws that we have.

And she does it with technical brilliance - her use of language, humour, extensive footnotes that just add more and more and are almost Pratchett-like in what they bring.

This should be the book that we all remember in 50 years as the mirror that was held up to society, and society saw itself and wept.

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The Burning God

The Burning God

R F Kuang

23rd February 2022

The third book of the Poppy War trilogy got off to a slower start for me. I found it hard to get back into the storyline, I think because it’s taken a darker turn and my ability to sympathise with the characters has reduced as a result.

My attention definitely picked up later on though, and I charged through the second half. Probably too fast, because I think I’m doing so I messed up my perception of time passing in the story. Having said that though, my memory is of long parts of the narrative covering relatively inconsequential events, and then major events happening very abruptly.

For me then, probably the weakest of the trilogy, though it does manage to deliver a satisfying ending that, unlike other fantasy trilogies, felt like it left me at exactly the right point - without feeling like I needed a bit more time with the characters or to see how things pan out following the climax.

I’m glad I picked up this trilogy after seeing the author win the Astounding Award in 2020, and I am certainly planning to pick up her future works.

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The Dragon Republic

The Dragon Republic

R F Kuang

5th October 2021

I always seem to get nervous with books two in series, concerned that’s they won’t be as good as I remember books one being, but also that I don’t remember enough about the books one to really understand. In this case I need not have worried.

We find Rin and her friends working as mercenaries for hire, using their varied magics in exchange for protection, while plotting how to assault their enemies. This simple set up leads into a highly complex political action thriller told from the point of view of a compelling character who doesn’t really understand at any point what’s really going on.

I find Rin a truly fascinating character to follow. Her personality is so well established and her actions flow from these traits beautifully, and I’ve loved watching her grow and evolve through this novel.

Similarly the plot does wonders and manages to successfully avoid second book issues that plague many trilogies - it is a complete story in itself that shows Rin’s journey, filled with action, suspense, and tragedy.

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The Poppy War

The Poppy War

R F Kuang

19th December 2020

R F Kuang’s novels have appeared with increasing regularity on my social media feeds this year since she was awarded the Astounding Award at this year’s WorldCon, and so it seemed inevitable that I would buy and read the first novel in her trilogy.

The Poppy War tells the story of Rin, an orphan growing up in an abusive household, who decides that she can escape via education, and strives to achieve entry to the most prestigious military school in the country.

The setting has very clear parallels to China and events there in the last century, and I’ve been inspired to read more about the history of this part of the world as a result.

The novel is a fantasy novel, although fairly subtly so for some time, with the interesting setup that most people don’t seem to actually believe in the fantastical. This led to a mix of fun and frustration, as learning about the lore and magic systems is something I enjoy.

My one struggle in reading this was with the passage of time. I’m not sure whether this is because of the rate / chunkiness of my reading pattern, but I felt like I had to consciously remind myself that the book wasn’t happening day by day but that in some places weeks or even years were passing.

Overall though a really enjoyable novel with an engaging lead character, and I’m really keen to pick up the two subsequent novels and find out what happens next.

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