Review: The Burning God by R.F. Kuang

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

The Burning God is R.F. Kuang’s epic finale to her Chinese history-inspired Poppy War series, which began with The Poppy War and continued with The Dragon Republic.

The Burning GodIt’s impossible to overstate what R.F. Kuang has accomplished with the Poppy War trilogy. She has reinvented grimdark fantasy with her magical world that parallels the real-world events in Chinese history, most notably the Opium Wars, World War II, and the Communist Revolution.

This series is honest and brutal. The characters are all deeply flawed, and the main protagonist, Rin, is an anti-hero of the highest caliber. Rin is somehow a sympathetic character while simultaneously committing the most atrocious of war crimes.

In The Burning God, the series reaches its emotional and violent climax. The plot parallels that of the Chinese Civil War. Rin is a stand-in for Communist leader Mao Zedong, coming from the peasant class and leading a revolution of the peasants against the aristocracy. Nezha and his father are stand-ins for Chiang Kai-Shek and the Nationalists.

The violence of the war is surpassed only by the misery and famine that the war leaves in its wake. Rin may be good at waging war, but like Mao she is completely inept as a post-war leader.

I know this is nitpicking, but I have just a few minor quibbles with The Burning God. The geography as described in the book is inconsistent with the geography as depicted in the map. I tried to make sense of it, but ultimately gave up and decided to just go with the flow of the novel.

Also, the role of opium in accessing the power of the gods is inconsistent. Sometimes it helps characters access magical powers, and sometimes it prevents them from doing so. Also, when Rin trains new students in the magical arts, it seems way too easy for them to learn compared to how Rin had to learn in the first volume of the trilogy.

Notwithstanding these minor quibbles, The Burning God is an excellent book, and the trilogy as a whole is a masterpiece. Decades from now, I’m sure that R.F. Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy will prove to be one of the most influential fantasy series of the modern era.

If you haven’t already finished the Poppy War trilogy, be sure to read The Burning God now. But make sure you don’t have anything else on your calendar, because you won’t be able to put it down.

4.5/5

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.