A certain amount of pressure is placed on an author’s second novel, especially when the first novel gains the level of attention and acclaim of R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. A second novel, whether it be the second ever or the second in a series, is expected to be better written than its predecessor. A second novel is expected to have a better understanding of plot, of its characters, and of its readers’ expectations. A second novel is expected to improve upon the first in every conceivable way. This is easier said than done for most authors, and is easier to accomplish in the beginning of a career, where there is still learning to be done. The longer an author writes, the more series, they craft, the greater the risk of sequelitis setting in. Sometimes, the second story is worse than the first. The Dragon Republic, R. F. Kuang’s second novel, is a sequel done absolutely right.
Fantasy has been dominated by Western inspirations and European locales for years. Even when books transported characters to decidedly non-Western environments, the heroes were still white. But non-European inspired stories have always been there. Everyone wants to see their selves reflected in the stories they read, and consumers of fantasy understand representation more than most. In the last decade or so, the literary world has seen more high-profile fantasy books coming from non-western authors in non-western settings. The Poppy War is one such book, bringing readers to a world inspired by China. However, this fantasy is not for the faint of heart. Like the real-world country’s history, this book is blood and war.