A Review of The Burning God – Spoiler Free
This is review of The Burning God by R. F. Kuang is spoiler-free.
I was a huge fan of the first two books in Kuang’s The Poppy War trilogy, as can be seen from my reviews:
Because of this, I expected to love the final entry too, but I didn’t. It’s not that it was a bad book because it wasn’t – it was a great book, in fact. My general feeling, though, is that the series peaked with The Dragon Republic and The Burning God is not quite as good as The Poppy War.
I have heard many positive reviews for this third book in Kuang’s debut trilogy and agree with many of the points.
“I am the end and the beginning. The world is a painting and I hold the brush. I am a god.”
The first that comes to mind is the character of Rin. She is a fantastic, powerful, deeply flawed individual and following the story from her point of view is an incredible experience.
You have absolutely no idea what Rin is going to do next or why she might do it, but when she takes action we find ourselves understanding perfectly. Morally-grey is certainly an understatement – Rin is just evil at times, but when you know her so deeply after reading the first two books, they don’t always feel like evil actions. You might even agree with what she does – whether you believe they are morally right or not.
“Come back down,” he said, his expression suddenly grim. His fingers clenched tight around hers. “Listen, Rin. I don’t care what else happens up there. But you come back to me.”
Rin and Kitay’s relationship is an interesting dynamic. He is always pushing for Rin to do what we as the reader think she should do – the decisions that would be less “evil”. I like that he is there because he acts as the reader’s voice at times. Without that conflict within the book, I feel like I would have struggled to deal with Rin’s decisions a lot more.
The characters in this book are both the strongest and one of the weakest elements of the story (I’ll explain more in the Cons section), but the relationship between Rin and Kitay is definitely a positive aspect.
“War didn’t end, not so cleanly—it just kept building up in little hurts that piled on one another until they exploded afresh into raw new wounds.”
The final positive I want to mention is the world. Kuang ensures that there isn’t even a part of us that believes the war being fought in The Burning God and throughout the series is entertaining. Yes, we are hooked, but there is no positive emotion towards it.
In a similar way to the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson, The Poppy War series does not have brave heroes, heroically going out into battle as you might see in more classic fantasy. Instead, we see real people, fighting, dying, and hating every day of the war.
I have talked a lot about the themes that come up in this book before in previous reviews, so check them out if you want to hear more of my thoughts on this.
There is only one negative I can think of and it’s the side characters. In The Dragon Republic, we saw so much more of Nezha, Venka and others (but these really stand out). I loved how they developed and the effect that their growth had on the story.
In The Burning God, we seemed to go backwards. I understand that this was the final book in the series and for reasons obvious, if you have read the book, focusing on Rin makes sense. However, I missed seeing more of the side characters as they had so much more to offer.
That is all for this review of The Burning God by R. F. Kuang. If you’d like to talk more about this series or any other fantasy or science fiction books, feel free to join us on Discord!