Tuesday 21 August 2018

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Book Title: The Poppy War
Author: R. F. Kuang
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Netgalley

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: 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 The Nikara Empire is currently at peace, but 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.
What did I think?

4.75 Stars.

I got The Poppy War from Netgalley a while back, but I've loved it so much I since decided to buy it for my girlfriend as an audiobook.

I couldn't put this down. This was one of those, 'I will stay up until the early morning hours if necessary' books.

Just look at the cover. It's gorgeous. The themes in this book, however, less gorgeous. Let me begin this review with a warning. I don't often do trigger warnings, but the beginning of this book may as well be YA, so I feel the need to point out: this story is dark, awful, dreadful, terrifying, horrific, etc. There are war themes, self-harm, children dying, genocide, abuse, animal cruelty, torture and off-screen rape.

The Poppy War is told in three parts. The first part starts out fairly fluffy with Rin passing an exam (against all odds, of course) to join a prestigious military academy where she must study hard or lose her place. We've seen that part many times, usually in YA, and it follows more or less the expected tropes. However, Kuang writes in a very pleasing way, and the pacing swiftly pulls you along and before you know it you start reading the third part.

Until that third part, I enjoyed myself, a lot. But I didn't get what all the fuss is about. The third part is what turns this debut from a great read into an amazing read.

Why not five stars? Because ultimately, a lot of the book is fairly predictable, and I did not enjoy the ending. It's not a bad ending but the protagonist develops in ways that made me want to close the book to stop it from happening (that's how it works isn't it? you close the book and just like that, you stop the events!) and it left me unsettled.

The world is inspired by Chinese history, and the world building is fascinating and different. (I must admit I don't know much about Chinese history.) Rin is a great protagonist, well developed and fleshed out. Some of the side characters felt a bit generic at times, but it didn't distract from the story. Simply because everything flowed at such a quick pace, and it just worked.

I recommend this to fans of fantasy who like grimdark worlds, and I think especially Mark Lawrence fans who love his Red Sister / Book of the Ancestor trilogy will enjoy this one.


  1. That protagonist does sound incredibly well written. I'm also very intrigued by the premise - it sounds so fascinating and interesting.

    So happy you loved this read! :)

    1. Thank you :) Just be aware the third party is very very horrific!

  2. Fantastic review :)
    Agree with the Mark Lawerence recommendation, I loved Red Sister as much as I loved The Poppy War.
    Cora | http://www.teapartyprincess.co.uk/

  3. I could deal with all of those themes except the animal cruelty. I just don't enjoy reading that at all!

    1. Oh yes, when the dog died I visibly cringed, then I figured I'd just watched a genocide play out on page, so maybe I should be less annoyed by a dog. But nope, no, the dog got to me the most.

  4. Wow... This one definitely sounds interesting! I might read it just to see what made you want to close the book to stop events! And yes, that totally works! And that cover? It's gorgeous.

    Awesome review!!!