Author: R.F. Kuang
Publication Date: May 1, 2018
Publisher: Harper Voyager
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.
This may very well be one of the best fantasy novels I have ever read.
It is an edge of your seat, nail biting, high stress story. The title implies it all, this is a book about war. With that being said I want to say first and foremost that this book is very dark and heavy AF so proceed with caution if you are at all sensitive to themes of: graphic and violent war, rape (mostly off page but still descriptive and horrific), cruelty and torture (animal and human), drug use, racism.
The Poppy War is an epic fantasy with modern Chinese history weaved into the story that includes Shamans, Gods (including a fiery Phoenix!), and mentors that are quirky and high on opium! All of this combined leads to a rich, unforgettable story.
“They were monsters!” Rin shrieked. “They were not human!”
“Have you ever considered” he said slowly “that that was exactly what they thought of us?”
This book is separated into two different sections and there is a clear distinction between them. The first half of the book is lighter and more fun than the second half which is where most of the war takes place.
We are introduced to Rin, a hardworking badass woman who EARNS her way into the prestigious Sinegard – the greatest military school in the country. I loved this about Rin, she didn’t have any extra ‘abilities’ other than an impressive work ethic that got her into this school.
In the beginning we see Rin head off to Sinegard only to battle even bigger demons than she faced at home such as racist teachers and school bullies who hate Rin for “looking different”. She has to overcome many obstacles while at Sinegard only to be thrown into the midst of a gruesome war and have to prove her worth and her strength time and again.
“War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.”
At this point in the story it shifts gears into a darker and creepier story about the trials of war and how it not only affects civilians but those actively engaged as well. I love this part of the story for what it is. The truth. The honest truth of how horrific war is and always will be. But it’s a topic that needs to be discussed and The Poppy War in no way makes light of the situation, but instead sheds a light to those of us that may not understand. The action scenes are incredible and I found myself gasping and holding my breath at every twist and turn. This world and the characters are so well developed that I couldn’t bear to see any harm come to them.
Another aspect that I loved about this story is that there is no romance. I love that we have a female protagonist that could not give a shit about romance, it was so refreshing to read a story where there is no love triangle or anything getting in her way of being the war hero she was always destined to be.
I am so happy I read this beautiful, thrilling, intense novel. I urge all of you to give this book a try if you love fantasy as much as I do.