The Dragon Republic

by R. F. Kuang

The middle part of a trilogy can be hard. The first part is usually written so it can stand alone. But when an author starts the second part of a trilogy they are already thinking about the third, so it has to be a connector. It continues the story and sets up the finale, but it, too, has to stand alone to keep people interested.

It can work. The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the original Star Wars trilogy. The Dragon Republic might not be the best of R. F. Kuang’s trilogy, but it more than delivers. And it does what the second part of any trilogy must do: it makes me want to pick up the third book immediately.

The Poppy War

by R. F. Kuang

I read The Poppy War for the first time a couple of years ago, but I did not realize it was a series. As soon as I found out I bought the other books and re-read the first one to remind myself of the story.

Rin, an orphan who survived the genocide of her people, tests into the Sinegard military academy where she discovers her unique ability to summon fire before the Third Poppy War breaks out. This book is so very good, and I’m looking forward to continuing the story in The Dragon Republic.

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution

by R. F. Kuang

I snapped up this book the moment I saw it, because I already loved R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. Babel is a hard book to describe but an easy book to recommend. But I’ll try to describe it anyway.

Babel is about communication, colonialism, cultural appropriation, and capitalism. It touches on so many of the conversations we have been struggling to have about those things—especially over the last few years. It is also about magic. The magic of silver working is literally lost in translation. It is a feast for word nerds (like yours truly). And it is a compelling story of unlikely friendships and reluctant heroes.

I loved it, and it’s going straight onto my book recommendations.

Clockwork Samurai

by Jeannie Lin

Isolated Japan may have a technology that could give China an advantage in the looming conflict with the British. so Jin and Chang-wei go under cover to seek an alliance—or an advantage. Another spy thriller set in the steampunk 1800s.

The partnership/romance between Jin and Chang-wei reminds me a bit of the relationships between kickass men and women leads in kung-fu movies. (In a good way!)

A fun continuation of a really good series.

Gunpowder Alchemy

by Jeannie Lin

Set in 1800s China, gripped by pervasive opium addiction. In this steampunk alternate history, China’s engines are powered by gunpowder, not oil, and the emperor doesn’t want to hear the truth about China’s vulnerability to the British occupying its fringes. A young woman engineer teams up with her former betrothed to unravel the mystery of her dead father’s mechanical puzzle box and track down a more efficient gunpowder formula to power the imperial navy. Loved this book!

An Excess Male

by Maggie Shen King

China’s one-child policy and the value it places on men over women results in a society with too many men, state-mandated polygamy, and men desperate for any chance at (shared) domestic bliss. Factor in state intolerance of gays and neurodivergents, a quarter of men unable to join a marriage, and China has a lot of “excess”—disposable, even—males. Characters you’ll care about and an exciting plot make this a good read.