The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

R.F. Kuang

A “Best of May” Science Fiction and Fantasy pick by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Audible, The Verge, SyFy Wire, and Kirkus

“I have no doubt this will end up being the best fantasy debut of the year […] I have absolutely no doubt that [Kuang’s] name will be up there with the likes of Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin.” — Booknest

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.

-Excerpt taken from Goodreads.

Check Goodreads to see the book’s ratings.

My Opinion

“Pain was the price of success.”

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) I am utterly entranced by this book. Right off we meet Rin who is a war orphan but has been adopted into a family that doesn’t want her. She dutifully does what she’s asked until they want to marry her off. Then she takes her life into her own hands. Out comes the most determination and grit I’ve seen in a character! I was enthralled by Rin and her ambition. Once this paid off, she was sent to a school for the elite, to learn but also to fight. Once again, she had to dig deep inside to find her worth and do more work, more reading and more physical skills to keep up with the others.

Rin continued to surprise me again and again. I love a strong female character and she was the epitome. War is inevitable in their world and she is carried there. We follow her through training and battles and she excels again and again.

This book is not for sensitive readers. It is based on Chinese history and the majority of the intensity comes from historical stories. It is brutal and it is ruthless. There is also high opium use, which I wish the story could have excelled without, but it played into many different parts of it. It did touch on the real effects of addiction but at the same time, the need for opium to open the mind for the fantasy element.

Overall, I loved this book. If there was less opium use (there are ways to get the same effects without opium, I wish it would’ve focused more on that) I probably would have rated it 5 stars.

Content Summary: F words: 20+, opium (selling and using multiple times), menstruation, takes medicine to get rid of womb, war and much killing in battle, a monster eats the faces of people, many corpses of people killed very brutally, genocide, rape and torture, addiction. Ultimately, there are quite a few gory details in the war chapters and those may be too much for some readers.

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