Title: The Poppy War
Author: R. F. Kuang
Page Count: 544
Format Read: Hardcover
Keywords: China, Gods, War
Kid Appropriate: No, possible older teen
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
I picked this one up after hearing Piera Forde raving about it on her YouTube channel and seeing it nearly sold out at my local bookstore.
This is undoubtedly an enjoyable read in terms of fantasy and war reads. I enjoyed the flawed yet strong lead, Rin. There were times I wanted to scream at her in frustration as I was reading but never did I stop rooting for her. The secondary characters were interesting as well and none of them felt overly like they were just filler to populate the world.
There was plenty of action, growing up, and teen angst going on in this book and it was fun. To be sure there was also a great deal of politics and warfare. There were moments where Rin reminded me of Eona from Alison Goodman’s series. While this kept me reading it also ultimately left me missing Goodman’s series more than I was being drawn into Kuang’s. I am hoping that the rest of the series will add to my interest here and that my lukewarm feelings are due to this only being the first book because I did truly love the world and want to see where Rin goes after this.
I did like this book, but I did not feel the intense love for it that other readers did which left me with feelings of disappointment. First, this is a debut novel and at times the writing felt as young as the author, who was in her late teens when she wrote this. There is nothing wrong with this, but it was odd when at times I distinctly remember feeling older than not only the character but the writer. Being drawn out of the story by this more than once was distracting.
Second, there was a massive debate going on when this first came out about whether this was strictly adult fantasy or if it was actually YA. The author and most readers agree that this is an adult only book and R. F. Kuang has even provided an entire list of trigger warnings from her website. I can agree with the reasoning that this book does have some truly brutal scenes. However, I felt when I was reading that the tone was very similar to many YA books I have read in the past and I personally would have read this as a teenager and not been affected. That being said, I studied forensic anthropology and international security in college. I was surrounded by some truly disturbing human actions regularly. My tolerance for certain content is higher than most people.
Some teenagers, those that are particularly mature and not easily fazed, would be able to read this. I read books with more disturbing content then. However, teenagers that maybe are not as mature and can be sensitive to brutal subjects should stay away from this one because they would be in for more than they are prepared for around half way to two thirds of the way through this book. I cannot think of many youngsters I would feel were able to read this without having to stop or becoming distressed. Even some of the adults I know would be unable to finish this.
So, take into consideration the trigger warnings as well as whether or not this story would even interest you. If you feel up for it, I would definitely recommend giving this one a go.
About the Author of Adventures in Obsessive Reading
Ms. Winkle is an author and book blogger. Bleeding Heart is the first installment in her Guardian Chronicles series and her first novel. She has a BA in Anthropology from University of Montana, an MA in International Security from University of Arizona, and is currently working towards her PhD in Political Science. When she isn’t studying she can usually be found with a dog and a book.
You can find more of her work on her blog at: http://obsessivereadingreviews.blogspot.com