The Poppy War by: R.F. Kuang

Summary:

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 Review:

This book took me by surprise, and after reading it, I just wanted to say wow.

This story is an Asian inspired fantasy novel, which almost mirrors the Nanking Massacre. It deals with Rin, who is an orphan girl who managed to become one of the top students who got tested for the Keju, a very hard test in order to get into the military academy. With her doing so well, people tended to underestimate her because of her background as an orphan and even accused her of cheating.

The book is split into three parts. The first part deals a lot with Rin at the military academy, learning a lot of the background of the Poppy War, and the details of what lead up to those events. The fact it was mostly told through Rin’s class lessons made it so that the world building didn’t feel like info dumping and told more organically. The first part also did a good job at setting up a lot of the supporting characters and their back stories which made them more fleshed out.

It also basically deals a lot with Rin’s training and her mentor Jiang, who I could almost describe was a more bad ass version of Li Shang, who really wants to get down to business. The training chapters really makes this book work as it really dives deep into Rin’s character and you really see what she went through.

Parts 2 and 3, is there the book gets turned up to 11, in which you see the actual 3rd Poppy War, and everything went dark so quickly. From there the story is very fast paced with a lot of things happening at once, but with its great writing it was very easy to follow what’s going on.  It also explored a lot of the mythology surrounding the events and giving the story its own lore and how some of the gods plays a role in it.

I also like the themes that the book presents  in terms of genocide, and drug use, especially with the use of opiates and how that translated into the story. It also deals with the horrors of war and it really doesn’t hold back and dealing with a lot of Rin’s internal struggle.

In the end, The Poppy War was a fantastic book from start to finish. Every page got me hooked and engrossed with its story. I am very looking forward to how this series goes.

Grade: 5/5

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