Repost because I re-started my blog! The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang is one of my favorite fantasy novels and series of all time. The worldbuilding and plot are amazingly done, and the characters are well fleshed out, ruthless, killers. I spent a good half hour writing this, so that was a lot of fun. This character analyzation of Rin from TPW and The Dragon Republic will include massive spoilers for both books. Please do not read on if you have not read both books. Turn back now. Also, TW for mentions of: genocide, death, murder, torture, abusive people, and violence.
Ok. At the beginning of TPW, Rin is just trying to get out of her province and away from the abusive people who take care of her. I loved how Rin dedicated herself to her studies in the beginning. From the very start, we see a girl (she is 16 at the beginning) who is willing to do anything to achieve her ends. And I mean a n y t h i n g. She uses hot wax to keep herself awake and stays up for hours and days to memorize what she needs to know to for the test she needs to get into Sinegard Academy, the empire’s top military academy.
And she is the only student from her province accepted because she scores the highest. As someone who is super dedicated to school, I loved seeing a smart character who was very motivated (especially a brown skinned, Asian coded character). Once Rin gets to Sinegard, she is intimidated by how all of the other students seem better than her. However, she quickly gets over this. I mean, this girl decides to get rid of her uterus in order to stay focused on her studies. I’ve seen reviews saying this is anti-feminist. However, I see this action as more related to how someone will survive in a ruthless world. After all, we see that Rin was the top scorer in her province, so it makes sense that she would take this action. Additionally, Rin is one of three girls at Sinegard, and I see this as an advantage for Rin (as someone who gets a period, I know that they are VERY painful and bothersome).
As we progress throughout Part 1, Rin continually rises to the top at Sinegard. At the beginning, I found Rin easy to root for since she, well, hadn’t used a god to commit genocide against an entire country (although her thought process behind this is SUPER nuanced, and something I will be writing about as we go through this). She is smart, willing to do whatever it takes, and uses the library. The inner nerd in me (Perhaps I shall do an analyzation of Kitay next?) felt so happy about this.
I know anyone reading this has read the first two books, so I am going to gloss over some stuff and get straight to three points: Rin’s battle with Nezha is one of her turning points into ruthless goddess (yes, she is a goddess. Or at least I hope she will be on in The Burning God.). She finds out she is one of the last surviving Speerlies, from Speer, which was destroyed by a genocide led by the Federation of Mugen. This motivated the Republic of Hesperia to act with the Trifecta. (Also: Hesperia is a clear allegory for the U.S. colonizing/getting involved in war at the last minute.) Rin is connected with the Phoenix, which I found represents renewel, ressurection, and victory (TBG theory: Rin will be reborn and we will think that she is dead OR she will make a sacrifice play to save Kitay or Venka.). Rin develops these powers to connect with the gods, but her mentor does not want her to use her massive powers, which could destroy the world.
Anyway, Rin graduates from Sinegard and the third Poppy War begins. She uses her powers against a general who won’t die, and also sees her mentor fall. This is another turning point for Rin because while she couldn’t control her power, she knew for certain she wanted this Mugenese general to die and suffer. Rin gets sent to work with the Cike in a coastal city, which is led by Altan, a survivor of the Speerly genocide, and the only other Speerly left. Let me tell you: Altan was so unexpected to me because I expected him to be this boring commander who thought he knew everything, like most of the characters who might be like him. What I got was someone very different. Rin’s relationship with Altan seemed like her first true connection/maybe friendship of TPW. They both survived the destruction of their people, but ended up in very different places. Both of them are ruthless, however, there is a moment in Part 2 where I knew Rin had turned to a dark and brutal killer: when they saw the destruction of Golyn Niis. Seeing all of that destruction after hearing about what happened to her people changed the Rin on page one to someone as dedicated to someone still dedicated, but also a brutal person who you should avoid. Additionally, Venka’s talk with Rin after was so brutal to read, and I cannot imagine what Rin was thinking about the Mugenese in that moment except for the fact that she wanted to destroy all of them.
Also, Altan dies. So here’s Rin, all alone, after being tortured, in a cold ocean, swimming to Speer to destroy the Mugenese with the Phoenix god. I mean, the amount that Rin changed makes sense to me! Here is someone who knows genocide destroyed her people, saw ruthless acts in school, saw Nezha die, saw the complete destruction and murder of Golyn Niis, got captured and tortured (and saw Altan tortured), and saw Altan die. No one person could handle all of that, and that is why Rin’s actions make sense (although it is a war crime. So please keep that in mind). She uses the Phoenix god and has the Phoenix commit genocide on her behalf against the Mugenese. This completes Rin’s dark descent.
Next, we go into TDR. The pace of this book was a lot slower but with some action, which I liked. I found that there were less vivid descriptions (but still take heed if you read this!!). Anyway, Rin is living with the aftermath of her choice, but it seems like she is ignoring it. Which again makes total sense!! She knows genocide happened to her people, she knows the horrors of war, and yet she did the same thing! I can’t argue whether or not she was in a position to use a god to cause a genocide in a second because it makes sense that Rin wanted revenge. She wanted revenge for all of her people who died in the genocide against the Speerlies. I understand her actions, but still condone them.
So Rin is ignoring her choice and feels horrible in about the first 50 pages of TDR. However, Nezha and Kitay come back, and it seems like she’s still angry but is controlling it to kill the empress. The empress does not die and Rin kills Feylen. The two biggest moments of this book are 1. Nezha’s betrayal, and 2. Rin saying she is the most powerful force on the planet.
How do these events/words impact Rin’s characterization? Well. Rin obviously hated Nezha in school, and then he came back, and then they worked together, and then he LITERALLY stabs her in the back! I mean. Rin has a right to be angry. I am! I hate character betrayals, and that is why I hate Nezha and don’t ship him and Rin. Rin is a strong goddess all on her own, and it’s amazing how quickly she turned on Nezha, although, once again, this makes sense because she’s chosen to work with the bloodthirsty Phoenix god. This goes into reason number 2.
Rin knows that she is powerful, she wants bloodshed, and she wants the South to war against the Dragon Warlord (who wants democracy. That’s probably not going to happen in TBG). This is probably the hugest moment other than the genocide at the end of TPW because now Rin has completed? maybe? her ARC from angry peasant to angry, bloodthirsty goddess. Once again, this makes perfect sense: add up the events of book one, take the bloodshed and betrayal of book 2, everything Rin has seen/heard about her people, the Speerlies, and you get a very brutal person you do not want to cross.
Overall, this analyzation is meant to make me think about Rin more. Rin is sooo complicated, and is one of the best hero-villain combos. You are not meant to root for her actions, but I think you are meant to feel some sympathy for someone who’s been through a lot as a younger person. While she makes all of the choices, I feel like her circumstances and choices put her in a position where she was tired of being stepped on. This isn’t mean to excuse her actions, and that is why Rin is one of the most compelling characters to read about. We know she isn’t the villain, yet she’s commited really appalling actions. “Power is getting to higher places than those who’ve stepped on you.” This quote fits with Rin 1000000%! What do I think will happen to her in The Burning God? Stay tuned for my TBG top 5 theories post next week. I do feel like it’s a bit synopsis heavy, so any advice is appreciated for my next character analysis: comment if you want Nezha or Kitay.