Hot off the Press
My First Review of 2021
The Burning God
As I come to the end of this ambitious trilogy, I think it only fitting to share a little reminder of what has gone before. Here’s the blurb from the inside cover:
After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead.
Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much – the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges – and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation.
Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners.
As her power and influence grows, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s voice, urging her to burn the world and everything in it?
That sets the scene nicely for the review, as I’m determined NOT to slip up with any spoilers.
Rin’s journey has been long and arduous. She started out as a despised orphan; became one of Sinegard’s military elite; was bowled over by the discovery of her shamanic gifts; horrified by the desolation she could unleash; devastated by her descent into opium addiction; cast out as outlaw and renegade . . . until the tide appeared to turn and she was lured into the service of a powerful warlord who uses her talents to his own advantage, only to throw her to the wolves as an expendable tool that has no place in the world he envisioned.
Yes, Rin’s life has been a headlong plunge down the rapides, where every rise and fall, every submerged rock and hidden whirlpool, every twist and turn has molded her into the person she is now: a woman capable of rising in power and influence, but one who fights a constant battle to retain her humanity. She’s experienced the power of the Phoenix, and it is an addiction far deeper, far more insidious than anything a poppy can produce. A stark and ever-present problem, seeing as how she is so driven by vengeance. Thankfully, that yearning to burn everything under creation is tempered by a small group of friends.
But for how long?
Kuang deftly incorporates this dilemma into the very real pace of a countrywide war, fought over difficult terrain. (And in this, she deserves a lot of credit).
War isn’t all blood n’ guts and nonstop action and glory. It’s often long, boringly irritating and arduous. Kuang deftly weaves this strange ebb and flow into the story arc to present us with an incredibly accurate depiction of Rin’s war of attrition. There’s the slow build up during long, grueling marches. A gathering of momentum. Repeated anticlimaxes. Short, sharp bursts of activity when an actual battle erupts. The adrenaline dump of the aftermath. The gradual realization of how little victory can accomplish, especially when you’re trying to juggle an ever-expanding web of logistical nightmares with the needs of a displaced or conquered community.
Yes, these riptides and countercurrents are superbly portrayed, as Kuang manages to weave them into actual ancient Chinese history, ethics, war strategy and politics. The end result being a superbly challenging story that brings a truly operatic production to its finale.
As ever, Kuang’s characters are wholly believable and as tragically flawed as the folks you meet in real life. Their strengths and weaknesses are utilized, to deliver a dark, imaginative and brutally uncompromising story of what can happen to the best of us when you try to fight a war on two fronts. (NO SPOILERS).
That’s why the ending is inevitable. THAT’S why the ending is perfect.
Don’t miss The Burning God. It’s symphonic fantasy at its best!