THE POPPY WAR
Written by R.F. Kuang
Published by Harper Voyager, May 1, 2018
My star rating: 4 stars
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. Find it on Goodreads
This is definitely a case where book blogs came through for me. I hadn’t heard of this book before, until Justine from I Should Read That mentioned it in her blog and in her YouTube Channel video. This book is right up my fantasy loving alley!
This is the type of book that feels slow moving. Like nothing is happening until all of a sudden everything is happening. But in reality, it’s one of those books where it’s all in the details. The plot is a slow and steady machine, constantly moving and building pieces and parts to make a whole. The details may seem small and inconsequential yet, when something happens, you’re never confused and asking questions. Instead, your mind recalls all those interesting tiny details, and you sit there for a minute, book open in front of you, while you recount and visualize as every detail falls into place. This made both the plot and the world building easier to build in your mind.
The story is split into three parts. Part one follow’s Rin as she studies for a test that will get her into the most prestigious school in the country where she will train to be a soldier. Only the best are accepted and only the best of the best remain. Once she made it to the school I was entranced. The setting was incredible and felt very ancient. The politics between the students and teachers were equally entrancing. And it was brutal. The things they had to do, their ways of learning, the lessons themselves – it wasn’t easy that’s for sure! And as one of the few females there, she was forced to work harder and make some insanely awful decisions. I fell in love with their lessons and was itching to see who placed on top and what they would pledge when they were done.
Part two and three were after the school and the beginnings of war. These parts were difficult for me. The pace seemed very stop and go and I ended up listening to the audio book for a while. My other issue with these parts were the introduction of more characters. There were already so many in part one, and then there were more, all with equally difficult names to pronounce. Since some of them seemed close to others in their spelling and pronunciation, I would get them mixed up and confused. The audio book definitely helped straighten them out a bit! These last two parts were still interesting, but it had a totally different feel from the first part. If I’m being honest, I preferred the atmosphere and writing in the first part.
Possibly my favourite part of this story is the folklore and inclusion of Gods. The stories that were told of these Gods throughout the book were so rich! I honestly could have used more of this. The way that they were explained and weaved throughout the story made you sit and wonder if the stories were real. And even if they weren’t, it made you consider what had happened in the past and how it was used as a cautionary tale. The added atmosphere that these tales brought to the story made the war seem ancient in origin. Also, the wars wouldn’t truly end until all was right with the gods.
I feel the need to also mention that this book is not young adult. Shortly before the release, there was a lot of controversy surrounding this book flying around on Twitter. Yes, the main character is a teenager, but that doesn’t automatically make this young adult. There’s a lot of mature content (violence, rape, etc) and is recommended for more mature audiences.
All in all, this book was very well written, rich and descriptive, and action packed. I did struggle at times, but it was well worth the read in the end! I can’t wait to continue the series!
Until next time, happy reading!