Hello there! I know that I haven’t been posting much recently because I recently finished reading The Dragon Republic which has put me in a slump in literally every area of my life.
All my brain could think was Fang Runin and Yin Nezha so I thought why not write a not-so short review and (try to) express my love for this book!
I’ve been told that this book would destroy me, which is very very true. Everything about this is perfection. So without any further ado, let’s get into me screaming about The Poppy War!
The Poppy War
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 follows Rin, a dark-skinned orphaned peasant girl from the south who manages to get into Nikan’s most prestigious academy, Sinegard to everyone’s surprise. Even tho she managed to escape from her foster family to whom she was nothing much than a burden who would be married off for dowry, Rin has to constantly deal with prejudice in Sinegard for her skin color, economic status and gender. All this doesn’t stop her from working hard and climbing to the top of her class.
But when she accidently accesses shamanic powers when war is fast approaching, Rin has to become a soldier and fight for her country, making important decisions for everyone’s welfare.
“War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.“
Rin isn’t your typical perfect MC. She is herself. She is hungry for power and makes bad decisions. Her morally-grey and anti-heroine nature is something that would make you love her and hate her. Her character development throughout the book is phenomenal because she went from a good for nothing peasant who was always told that she was a burden to a soldier with so much power that she was looked upon and feared.
She shows her oppressors who’s better with her interminability, she gains power and respect. Ever since the book began, R.F Kuang left it to the reader to decide whether they liked Rin or not. She is such a complex character who sometimes makes bad decisions or even does downright villainous things, which you will understand whether you like her or not.
“Success required sacrifice. Sacrifice meant pain. Pain meant success.“
Apart from Rin, another notably developed character this book has is Altan, the sole survivor of his race who has suffered his entire life, only to be used as Nikan’s military pawn. Altan is someone who Rin looks up to as a role model, just like anyone else in Sinegard, for his abilities and strong mindset. Rin and Altan are also very much alike, they are strong, full of power, but are disposed once as their job is done, which shaped them into exactly who they are.
Not to forget Nezha and Kitay, Rin’s classmates. Nezha is your typical rich bully and Kitay is your typical nerd. I feel that both Nezha and Kitay developed better in the dragon republic and played a larger role in that book than this one.
There are also members of the Cike, who didn’t get much development either but, played pretty important roles in this and the upcoming novel.
“Great danger is always associated with great power. The difference between the great and the mediocre is that the great are willing to take the risk.“
Apart from the fast-paced plot and well-developed characters, The Poppy War also discusses some very important topics. This book is definitely not a light or easy read. It shows the cruel nature of humans and what one can do for power. The Poppy War takes inspiration from the Opium Wars, the second Sino-Japanese war, the Massacre of Nanjing (Chapter 21) and Unit 731, where some scenes were “directly pulled out of history books” which makes you stop reading for a while and wonder as to how humans can be so atrocious to one other.
If you would like to learn more about the historical context behind The Poppy War, I would highly recommend reading Tiffany’s Post where she not only tells us the intriguing history behind this book, but also discusses character parallels to real-life politicians.
Did I mention this book has brilliant world-building and politics in it? It has everything from a military academy to actual war strategies in it! Just the geographic worldbuilding was enjoyable to me as well—the explorations of colonialism and imperialism are so well-done. I loved the way it mirrored China, Japan and the West.
“Chaos does not discriminate”
Even though this book is classified as an adult fantasy, Kuang writes so compellingly that the 500+ pages this book has felt like nothing and everything. I read around 100 pages every single day and it felt like I didn’t read anything at all. The plot is paced perfectly, it being both character and plot driven which makes you come back for more and suffer with these very wonderful yet horrendous characters.
Now it is time that every single one of you picks up this masterpiece and experience this thrilling masterpiece that The Poppy War is. I’m assuring you that R.F Kuang will break you into pieces and re-build you as a whole new person. But please do take the trigger warnings in consideration as this book can be very graphic at times.
Representation: Asian (mostly Chinese-inspired) cast
Trigger Warnings: War themes (death, murder, violence, etc.), drug use, substance addiction, self-harm, racism, colorism, misogyny, genocide, bullying, abandonment, abuse, animal death, animal cruelty, brutal & graphic torture, killing & rape, mutilation, human experimentation, fatphobia
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Have you read The Poppy War? Is it on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below!
Till next time,