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The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

The Poppy War

by R. F. Kuang

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Poppy War (1)

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3711742,987 (3.98)28



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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)

*I imagined the school at Sinegard like across between Sungkyungkwan and the Cloud Recesses from Mo Dao Zhu Shi.

*I suspected Jiang was more what he showed to the world. And when the story of the Trifecta was narrated, then I had an inkling he was the Gatekeeper.

*If you think that this is a girl's story about her journey from a mere peasant, goes to a school against all odds, conquered those odds, and rise to her glory... then, you're wrong.

*At least, as far as this book goes.

*It's wonderfully written and I had throwback moments to when I was reading the Eon duology. It was that condensed, that nuanced, that powerful.

*And raw. Raaawww. No holds barred.

*I loved Part 1 where they were still students at Sinegard. But when the drums of war came, around Part 2, however, I was like hmmmm.

*The characters unfolded throughout the story.

*Rin came across as naive. She might've experienced battles, fights, torture, and suffering, but her thinking was still narrow; she only saw the tree and not the whole forest.


*The book is a cross between The Young Elites, Eon, and a book/TV series I've read/watched that I could not pinpoint. But yes, The Young Elites + Eon.

Full review to come. ( )
  Ayanami_Faerudo | Jan 31, 2019 |
Opium is an undercurrent of the Nikara empire. The war with the Federation of Mugen brought it to these shores and only the powers of the Trifecta, the Vipress; The Dragon Emperor and the Gatekeeper who went to the gods and begged for power, have kept the Mugen Federation at bay.

The Dragon Emperor is dead, decades later, the Gatekeeper is missing and the Vipress sits on the throne and the Mugen Federation is still a threat.

In this world war orphan Fang Runin finds herself having to make a choice. She can marry or she can fight for her right to be in the Military Academy in Sinegard. There she finds a lot of obstacles and powers she didn't realise existed. Powers that are officially forbidden.

There's a lot in here and a lot of things that you can see will have implications later in the series. It led to another bad decision book club moment where I kept "just reading to the end of a chapter" until I finished the book. There were a few moments where the bad decisions felt more plot driven than character driven but I'm sure this will be worked out in later books. It's going to be an interesting ride. There were interesting philosophical moments where the author was looking at belief and how magic and belief could be linked and how it could have implications when you didn't believe. The magic is very shamanistic in nature which is an interesting change.

I hope there's a more human side of the Mugen Federation in later books because so far they're very single-minded and not very nice. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Jan 22, 2019 |
This is a fantasy novel based on Chinese history. It has a great number of allusions to the real history, from test system to some horrific and tragic events, which happened during the Japanese occupation. It was surely tragic in reality and the story makes no whitewashing, so be prepared to some highly shocking contents.

The story starts as a usual YA fantasy novel – a magical school, the protagonist with no noble roots but a lot of talent and her privileged opponents. It is so cliché that you can decide to drop it, but then some unusual choices are made and the story diverges from usual line. Of course, there is some kung fu stuff, after all the setting is based on China, but this doesn’t take a central stage.

An unusual fantasy with strong themes and messages.
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
Fantasy with realistic atrocities, bringing comparisons with N.K. Jemisin’s work. Rin is a war orphan—the Second Poppy War has brought her China-analogue country to difficult straits, and she claws her way out of the provincies to the premier military academy by raw force of will. But once there she’s a despised outsider, even after she discovers her connection to the gods and the great powers they can offer. When Japan-analogue invades, she has to decide how much destruction she’s willing to unleash, and it’s a lot. Multiple genocides, mass rape, and other large-scale destruction leaving readers to ponder whether salvation is even possible after such horror. ( )
  rivkat | Jan 1, 2019 |
4 & 1/2 STARS

Far-East-based fantasy novels are quite rare, and as such they are worthy of notice for the difference in background from the usual Middle-Age European-ish setting one usually encounters in the genre: that’s why I’m always intrigued when finding this kind of scenery, and my past experiences – with Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet and the more recent Jade City by Fonda Lee – have been quite positive. I was therefore looking forward to what I would discover in this debut novel, and I was certainly not disappointed, since I found myself engaged by the story even beyond my expectations. The Poppy War is set in what looks like an alternate version of China in the period between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, and draws much of its background from the real events of the constant strife between China and Japan in that era, a period I felt compelled to learn more about thanks to this book.

The story starts with what looks like a classic tale of escape from day to day drudgery through the discovery of unexpected talents, but after a while it turns into something quite different. Young Rin, the protagonist, is a war orphan who’s been turned into a sort of indentured slave to a family of shopkeepers whose main source of income comes from a flourishing opium smuggling operation. Informed on her fourteenth birthday that she’s been promised in marriage to a rich merchant who could be her grandfather, Rin is desperate to avoid a fate that threatens to be even worse than the actual situation, and gambles everything on the Keju, a test that could grant her access to the prestigious Sinegard military academy. Scoring the highest marks of her province proves to be only the first, tiny step in a long and hard road: once she gets to Sinegard, Rin finds herself among the sons and daughters of the most influential families of the Empire, her dark skin and peasant origins a blemish no one is inclined to forget or forgive.

Rin’s fierce determination to succeed is fueled by the awareness that this is the only course open to her, the single-minded focus she is able to apply to any challenge is born out of desperation as much as ambition, and it’s because of that unwavering willpower that she gains the attention of the most unusual, most scorned Sinegard teacher, who guides her toward the practice of shamanism – the almost forgotten art of communing with the gods and drawing on their powers – something she has a natural talent for. As the young woman progresses in her studies, the winds of war between the Nikan Empire and the Mugen Federation, never truly extinguished, flare up once more throwing the two nations into a new, bloody conflict that will put to the test Rin’s newly explored powers and her need for recognition.

It’s with the onset of war that Rin’s journey diverges from its archetypal path of enlightenment through trials and moves instead toward an intriguing character study and an exploration of the meaning of power, of what it can do to the human soul and how it can affect one’s perception of right and wrong. Rin has been powerless for most of her life, and once she takes her destiny into her own hands she finds it increasingly difficult to separate her need to accomplish the goals she’s set for herself and the need to show the world how good she is, how much she was underestimated. It does not help, either, that straight out of Sinegard she is assigned to the Cike, the empress’ elite corps of assassins, all of them able to access some form of shamanic power and all of them doomed to succumb to madness because of it: once more Rin feels excluded, relegated among the unwanted and the despised.

At some point her not-so-subtle desire for retribution against life’s injustices becomes enmeshed with the equally strong desire for revenge against the horrors perpetrated by the Mugen Federation on her people, creating a dangerous mix fueled by the destructive power she can tap through shamanism.
Witnessing the bloody massacre of a whole city by the Mugen soldiers finally seems to break something inside her, probably the last thread of the bond tethering Rin to her humanity: the desire for vengeance against the brutality of the enemy turns her into a force for destruction, one that unleashes the tide of power stored within her and turns into a terrible weapon. If the description of the gleeful brutality visited on the doomed city by the Mugen Federation had me reeling in horror (compounded by the knowledge that it was modeled on the all too real Nanking Massacre perpetrated by Japanese troops), what Rin unleashes when she gives her powers free rein is equally horrific and leaves no sense of justice in its wake, but only the awareness of an unbroken chain of savagery.

Rin is a deeply flawed character, and yet there is something in her that drives you to compassion, even as she becomes a mirror of the monsters she wants to fight: I think it’s because of the tragic quality of her being, of the sense of doom always hanging over her even in the moments of triumph. We are transported right there, seeing events through her eyes in what feels like close up and personal detail, and that form of empathy never stops: as she discovers the truth about herself, her past and origins, and of the path she seems destined for, we come to realize that there might be no redemption at the end of the road, and we feel for her with incredible intensity.

By comparison, the other characters (and there are many intriguing ones in the book) feel somewhat less substantial, less defined: Rin is indeed a flame that burns too hot (and I’m not using the comparison lightly….) throwing the other figures into shadows, blinding us to their finer details. It’s the only complaint I have about The Poppy War, that I would have liked to know more about them, to see them as something more than props on the scene of her journey. Still, this was an extremely satisfying read, and in the end I marveled at how much the author seems to have crammed into a relatively small number of pages, and how she managed to touch with a light hand some difficult subjects like racism, social injustice and sheer human brutality: there is a great deal at stake here since, as I’ve read, this is only the first volume in a series, one that created enormous expectations and will require a great deal of skill to live up to them. And I can hardly wait….

Originally posted at SPACE and SORCERY BLOG
( )
  SpaceandSorcery | Dec 25, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
R. F. Kuangprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cherkas, LauraCopyeditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Forbes, DominicCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
JUNGSHANCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A war orphan rises from her humble beginnings to become a powerful military commander, and perhaps her country's only hope for survival.

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