Rating: 4 out of 5
While the universe is both colourful and innovative—especially with respect to most of SF&F—Ms Kuang’s world still trails history closely enough to dull an interesting story. Nevertheless, the action, the theory, and the workings of the world allow a reader to enjoy the better parts of the book while ignoring the rest.
The title of this book gives away enough for it to not be a surprise if I say that one of the main questions hovering throughout is that of a Republic: a Republic to replace the Empire. This bit of political theory is, however, so complex, that none of the characters realize what they are actually talking about. The protagonists are, therefore, fighting for something they don’t really know what to do about.
Most of the story sees Rin slowly emerging from where the first book left her. It’s an interesting rise: what mars it most for me is the way Rin continues to spout theories of total war, regret at surviving enemy civilians and combatants, while she is in the exact position that she previously put others into. I’m not sure whether the characters youth make this a believable position to hold, but Rin does grow—perhaps remarkably so—within these pages.
That glimmer of promise was the most important thing for me, as well as the book’s ending left a bit of an opening for a new and innovative course to be tread in Book #3. I imagine I’ll be disappointed in that, but we’ll see.
For one final gripe, if someone wants to use the story of Red Cliff in their fictional universe, it would read a lot better if the fictional place was also not named ‘Red Cliff’—and, if its fictional history were different to that of the real one.