Book Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Poppy War
Author: R.F. Kuang
Genre: Adult Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

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.” (Goodreads)

Edit: I have finished my reread and still enjoyed it just as much! Even though I knew there would be some harsh things to read about (CW: Rape/Gore/Violence) I didn’t realize how much it would still cause me to cringe.

I don’t usually read much adult fantasy because its hard for me to find ones that I actually enjoy. I have heard mixed reviews for this book but I went with my gut and went for it! It was the best decision because it blew my expectations out of the water and left me needing more.

Rin comes from a troubled past. She is an orphan of war, helps her foster family with their drug business, and now they want to marry her off. She is determined to not make that her fate and starts studying for a test that if she passes will lead her to a military academy. There, she meets some really interesting characters and gets swept away into war, hatred, and power not from this world.

Rin doesn’t want to be like the other girls in her village. She doesn’t want to marry and instead forges her own path. As she becomes a woman, there is talk of her menstruating and a lot of books are doing this which is great because it is a natural function of the body and makes the characters more relatable. Because of her menstruation she also makes a decision which has some consequences later down the road.

One of my favorite characters from this book was Jiang the master of lore at the military academy. He was a bit on the weird/crazy side and did drugs which at times made him hilarious. Although he added comedic relief at times, he was a very important character and tried to ground Rin when her emotions would get the best of her.

The plot was nothing I had imagined and at times I wondered why it was fantasy. There wasn’t much talk of the gods they used to worship or magic in general but as I kept reading it finally appeared and we are introduced to shamans. It was refreshing to see them as there aren’t many books with shamans that I have personally read. There is also political issues and even the social hierarchy were poor is deemed as bad. This book is filled with war and it doesn’t shy from the gruesome reality of it. A times it was hard to read about what the soldiers did to villages and cities but it is supposed to make you uncomfortable and realize that although this is fiction, things that can happen in the real world.

Overall, I loved this book. It is gripping and full of humor, loss, and the tragedies of war. Rin is a strong and emotional character and I can’t wait to see where her story leads in the next book.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

  1. Great review! I keep hesitating on this one because of the trigger warnings. I feel like it might be a bit too much for me, but the story sounds so amazing that I’m tempted to read it anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I definitely understand that. It can definitely be harder to read during certain passages but it does a good job of giving us the perspective of war and how brutal it can be.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s a trilogy I’d highly recommend if you can get through the CWs! The characters grow so much through each book and can be quite morally grey. I’m working through the third book now and it’s intense but so worth the read!

      Like

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