Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

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.

Harper Voyager  |  23 April 2018  |  AUD$37.99

My Blurb (4.5 stars)

One of my most anticipated release this year and it did NOT disappoint. In fact, I’m rather speechless! Or more accurately, I have so many things to say, they’ve all jumbled up and I’ve no idea how to sort them out so that they’d make sense to everyone else ;p

That first line totally got me! I burst out laughing (thankfully, I was home and not on the train full of strangers) because it caught me completely off guard. Rin herself was astonishingly hard-headed and enterprising. She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it. She’s definitely NOT getting married.

To start with, it was a such easy, fun, and un-put-down-able read. In fact, the first half reminds me so much of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. The academy setting, MC’s poor background & her hot-headedness, the spoiled brat who almost ruined everything for the MC, the kooky master, etc were all too familiar to be ignored and yet, so differently brilliant. I’m dubbing this first half to be ‘The Name of the Wind with an Asian twist’.

The second half was hand-on-heart hard on my sensibilities. I was warned by a friend that chapter 21 could have some triggery effects on some people. I think with my wide scope of reading, I may have become desensitised to beheading, dismemberment, etc but woah, there was some pretty graphic descriptions here and especially with rape & babies involved, I was starting to feel nauseous, but thankfully, it ended before I actually had to (and this time, I was one of many sardines packed into the train carriage on the way to work). I understand this is based on true historical event and I do not doubt that this type of cruelty exists. This actually made me feel bad that I didn’t feel more about beheadings and such. You know, sometimes, you really have to face up to what people can do & have done.

War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.

And sometimes, the hard bits are what made the book. In the face of a senseless war, Rin and her friends faced impossible situations, inconceivable decisions, and incomparable consequences. Of course, Rin had to come on top but did she really?

Rin is an amazing protagonist. She’s fierce and fiercely independent. Rin’s world is an intricately layered complex of humanity, friendship, loyalty, and faith. Read the book! Laugh with Rin, weep with all humanity and rage against all brutality. But above all, do NOT ask me to lend you my copy of this book :p

Thanks to Harper Voyager for copy of book in exchange of honest review (& Annie @Read3rz_revu – sorry if I burst your eardrums from screaming when you handed me a copy of this book lol)

About the author

I immigrated to the US from Guangzhou, China in 2000. I currently study Chinese history at Georgetown, where my research focuses on Chinese military strategy, collective trauma, and war memorials. I’m a 2018 Marshall Scholar, and I’ll be heading to the University of Cambridge next fall to do my graduate studies.

Fiction-wise, I graduated from Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016 and attended the CSSF Novel Writing Workshop in 2017. My debut novel, The Poppy War, is the first installment in a trilogy that grapples with drugs, shamanism, and China’s bloody twentieth century.

Find Rebecca on:  website  |  goodreads  |  instagram  | twitter

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

  1. Pingback: Bingo! ~ #AsianLitBingo 2018 | Tien's Blurb

  2. Pingback: The Poppy War by R.F Kuang with exclusive mini Q&A – Read3rz Re-Vu

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