Book: The Poppy War
Author: R.F. Kuang
Genre: Adult (maybe borderline YA), fantasy, historical fiction
My Rating: ★★★★★
When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
The Poppy War is one of those books that will forever stay with me and is one of my favorite reads of 2018. My friend Melanie recommend The Poppy War to me and I am forever grateful for this. I always appreciate reading books outside of my comfort zone and I’ve been wanting to read more own voices and adult fantasy this year. I cannot recommend this book enough if you’re a fan of war fantasies/historical fiction.
However, I want to mention some major trigger warnings right off the bat: brutal torture/murders, genocide, infanticide, rape (told via recounting), bullying, racism, drug use/addiction, animal cruelty, and overall very, very graphic scenes and descriptions of war. If you watch Game of Thrones, then I’d say the type of graphic violence in The Poppy War is on par with that (or maybe slightly worse.) Also, even though I’ve seen Goodreads label this as YA, I feel like it’s very loosely a YA book due to all the mature content. The story itself is inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War, most notably the Nanking Massacre. I implore you to read up on these events to get a better understanding of how horrible, yet important, they are to remember.
I was instantly hooked from the very first page. We follow Rin, a war orphan who, wanting to avoid an arranged marriage, enters an elite military academy. I want to say how much I LOVED this school setting; from the combat classes to the odd teachers and (some horrible) classmates. Here Rin faces bullying and racism, but to watch her character arc has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever read (she is so fierce and badass. In fact, several of the females are in this book.) I found myself rooting for so many characters (even some who didn’t deserve it).
But this isn’t just a story about students; there is an entire continent with a war erupting, and an island nation that seeks revenge. Greater things beyond human control come into play and the story evolves into epic, magical battles.
You’ll also read about some great friendships and loyalty, but do not expect any romance. I will admit I had a few ships in mind. But you’re not going to get any romance out of this book.
While this book is over 500 pages, it is very fast paced and a huge page-turner. Every scene is action-packed and you’ll be in for some big twists. There were times I felt there were info-dump scenes I had to re-read to understand better (history lessons, war strategies), but they were all so interesting and I found myself tabbing alllll the pages! I seriously don’t even know how Kuang was able to construct this beautiful story (and it’s her debut!) but I cannot wait to read more!