ARC Review: The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

The Poppy WarWhen 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.

I received a copy of The Poppy War from Netgalley. When, Ceillie told me about this book, I wasn’t that intrigued. However, I started reading the blurb and I just had to know what happens.

This book is #ownvoices for Chinese-inspired representation (the story does not take place in our world).

Oh my God! The story is so good. I love a book that is propelled forward by its plot, and The Poppy War delivers exactly that. It was so detailed and one can tell that the book draws from Chinese history and culture.

The plot is thrilling. It’s quite fast-paced and yet you have certain moment where you can rest as a reader, and experience a slice-of-life scene. Rin’s journey from not trusting anyone to finding people people who trusted her and gave her the security to trust them was very tumultuous and keeps you wondering whether she will be confident in herself and in her judgement some day. It was relief to have a main character who wasn’t a natural prodigy at every single activity that she had to do. She failed so much, and her success was based on luck, the Phoenix, and her own hard work.

The writing style was exactly my cup of tea. As you may have gathered from my previous reviews, I love a book that has laugh-out-loud sentences as well as really good dialogue. A lot of the dialogue made me think about how the statements could be applied in a real-world setting.

I loved how detailed the characters were. It was wonderful that they also developed throughout the story and had their own story arcs. I liked reading about how friendships were formed and enemies created, and how relationships moved from trust to hate, and hate to trust. The relationships are complicated and never black-and-white. There’s so much nuance to them, and little events changed how people felt about each other – just like in the real world.

The magic system is fascinating in the book. I love how it slowly emerged and was not present from the beginning of the story, thus I had an opportunity to learn and be confused about magic along with Rin. Since the book only reveals what Rin finds out about magic, we, as readers, don’t know much about it either. This makes sense in the writing style though, and I’m looking forward to learning more about magic in the sequel.

There’s a part of the book where a character states that a woman does not fight directly in the thick of a battle, but rather through seduction and deception. I didn’t like this part at all. Especially, because this woman is named Vipress. If there had been more major female characters who did not rely on seduction and deception, or character who were not women, who did rely on those methods, it wouldn’t have felt that weird for me.

The characterisation of one of the major characters relies on a lot of ableist words and descriptions. There’s also a part where one of the characters states that he hopes another character dies, because according to the first character, the second could not live with himself if he were disabled.

If you’re looking for high-stakes fantasy with an intricate history behind it, please get this book. It’s so good! I can’t wait to read the sequel!

Trigger warnings: racism, violence, rape, torture, misogyny, ableism, self-harm, drug abuse, death, addiction, mutilation, mass killings.

4 stars

Do you want to read The Poppy War? What part of the book intrigues you?


5 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

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