The Poppy War

The Poppy War

Book - 2018
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When Rin aced the Keju--the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to study 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 always thought they'd be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was now 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 the Nikara Empire--was even more surprising. But surprises aren't always good. Being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Rin is targeted from the outset by rival classmates because of her color, poverty, and gender. Driven to desperation, she 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 her powers could mean more than just surviving school. For even though the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied the Nikara Empire for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people in the Empire would rather forget their painful history, 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 who has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her her humanity. And it may already be too late.
Publisher: London : 2018. HarperVoyager,
ISBN: 9780008239817
Branch Call Number: AF KUAN


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Mar 19, 2019

Nominated for Nebula Awards 2019

JCLBetM Nov 20, 2018

I wanted to like this so much more. Clever female warrior protagonist? Sign me up! The world and plot were interesting (though sometimes slow), but somehow every time I thought I was supposed to feel something my heart was unmoved--and my heart is always ready to be moved. Yet I was left only mentally rooting for the story. It's still worth reading just for a new female-led flavor of this type of story. I'm hoping that somehow the author imbues her sequel(s) with whatever is necessary to lift the characters off the page into the literary world of real-(though-of course--not-real) that'll make me care about everything happening to them.

Aug 03, 2018

I was amazed this book was written by a first-time author. It's a fast-paced action fantasy that tries to deal with some big themes. A good read and pretty hard to put down.

Jul 17, 2018

I read 342 pages of this book before I decided to go spend my time on something worthwhile. I appreciate that there is a lot of good world building involved in this book and I accept that it is dark and violent. The problem is the characters never got better and I finally gave up on them. There is no one to cheer for in this book, everybody is shallow, angry and petty. To be have revenge, there has to be an injury or wrong suffered. RIn really doesn't have that, she has anger issues. She hates her life no matter where she is in it.

alburke47 Jul 15, 2018

No doubt if you are into fantasy, you have heard of this book doing the rounds. It's getting a lot of praise, and rightly so - for the most part.

<i>The Poppy War</i> tells the story of Rin, a war orphan brought up by drug dealers in a fantasy world called Nikara, akin to maybe late Middle Ages China. Rin is driven, willing to do what it takes to rise above her station, and wants to enter the prestigious Sinegard academy, where future military officers are trained. However, the Mugeni (Japanese) army is invading (again), and her training is cut short and she must learn to control her burgeoning powers while staying alive. So far, so great.

However, here's the niggles (as opposed to the Wiggles):

1. School: Pre-Sinegard is great, as she must fight just to do the entrance exam for the Academy. The actual school bit is not so great. It's strikes as mostly formulaic (with some nice surprises), and the fight scene at the end of her first year is straight out of Karate Kid, although Mr Myagi would not approve of the ending. Her relationship with her seemingly insane master Jiang is very nicely done.

2. Random technological suggestions: For example, there is mention of a scene where the Mugeni round up and shoot some Nikaran prisoners, yet not a gun is to be seen (except for some cannons). The Mugeni also have hypodermic needles, which may have actually been a thing at the time.

3. Zombie characters: "Why do characters suddenly appear, every time you are near?" Okay, they're not zombies, but characters have a habit of popping back into the narrative at convenient times. This is partially because it's told in first person (I'm a big fan). Sometimes it's nicely done, other times it's a bit irksome.

4. It seems like there are gaps in the story: There are gaps in the story, but sometimes (correct me if I'm wrong) it feels like we are jumping forward in time rapidly with little explanation for it. Part of this is the first-person narrative, but when you leave gaps in the story, we fill it in ourselves - which is a terrible idea as we're all used to reading fantasy tropes (aaaggghhh!!!). The tale is relatively long (527 pages in hardback), but it's pacy and enjoyable, and I could easily have handled another 100 pages of additional material. This, of course, could be down to the publishers, maybe we'll get an author's cut down the road.

Enough with moaning though. It's a great read. Rin is terrific, as are her two mentors, Jiang and Altan. It's kind of a love story, but more friendship than knocking boots. I could not in good conscience given it less than five stars.

Jul 12, 2018

Kinda predictable plot, with events borrowed directly from Chinese history in last 100 years or so, but it’s really well written, funny and brutally violent. I couldn’t put the book down and finished in 2 days.

JCLGreggW Jul 02, 2018

Kuang's debut is one of the best fantasy novels of 2018. A lowly-born girl uses her fierce intelligence and drive to get into the empire's most prestigious war college when a neighboring nation attacks, unleashing hidden dangers. Epic in scope and perfect for Brandon Sanderson or Ken Liu fans.

Jun 21, 2018

An amazing character-driven fantasy. Rin is a young woman who earns her place at a prestigious military academy, only to discover that the battle is nowhere near to complete. Feeding on her anger and a need for revenge Rin is ultimately embroiled in a fight that will have repercussions for both her and the country that she fights for. An outstanding debut!

Jun 01, 2018

This grim military fantasy is not for the faint of heart; it was almost too grim for me to enjoy, but the engaging characters and tight, tense plot kept me reading. Rin is an angry teenager set loose with little guidance in the middle of an angry, brutal war that is at least partly inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War, complete with analogs to the Rape of Nanjing, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and millions of casualties across a broad front. The setting is compelling and authentic, and the book's themes deal with genocide--how a society can come to a place where genocide seems like a winning choice, and its aftereffects in the lives of survivors.
If you're a fan of Game of Thrones, this book will appeal to you a LOT. Pick it up immediately! If you're delicate like I am, though, maybe make sure to read it while the sun is shining, because it's intense.

May 16, 2018

Rin starts off as a grey protagonist who is driven hard by ambition and misplaced loyalty. I was reminded of the way we watched the development of Adelina Amouterou in Marie Lu’s The Young Elites series. However, I think it is important to note that in spite of the age of the protagonist, in tone, pacing, and subject matter, The Poppy War is a decidedly adult fantasy novel that deals with war, substance abuse, rape, genocide, and intergenerational trauma, to name a few. Although her character develops to an increasingly dark place, early in the book, I found Rin very appealing. She is independent, ambitious, and irreverent, and she doesn’t care about customs or social roles. The Fangs plan to marry her off to a local official several times her age so that he will look the other way when it comes to their opium smuggling business. Her reaction is “fuck the heavenly order of things. If getting married to a gross old man was her preordained role on this earth, then Rin was determined to rewrite it.” However, she quickly developed into a person who worried me. She burns herself to stay awake when studying for the Keju, leaving herself scarred. And when she arrives in Sinegard and finds her studies imperiled by menarche, she decides to have her reproductive organs medically destroyed. In short, she is a terrifying badass. I admired her rejection of social norms, even as I was terrified of what she was going to grow up into.

Thank you to the publisher for providing an early review copy of this book. Find my full review at Required Reading:


Add Notices
Sep 12, 2018

Sexual Content: Rape

Sep 12, 2018

Violence: Descriptive Violence Selfharm

May 16, 2018

Sexual Content: References to off-page sexual assault

May 16, 2018

Violence: War and genocide

May 16, 2018

Coarse Language: Liberal use of the word "fuck"

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CoreneBee May 14, 2018

CoreneBee thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over


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May 16, 2018

Rin is a war orphan, being raised by the Fang family only because the government has mandated that families adopt such children, and because they find it convenient to use her to help them in their drug smuggling business. Living in the deep rural south of the Nikara Empire, Rin dreams of passing the Keju exam, and traveling north to study at one of the empire’s elite schools. But when her hard work pays off and she tests into Sinegard, the top military academy in the country, Rin discovers that her trials are only beginning. Sinegard’s military and political elite have little time or sympathy for a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south. Desperate to prove herself, Rin unlocks a supposedly mythical power that enables her to summon the strength of the gods. Even as she is further alienated from her teachers and classmates, she becomes the protégé of an eccentric master who has taken no other apprentices from her class. But Master Jiang wants Rin to learn to control and suppress her abilities, while Rin dreams of wielding them in battle for the glory of the Empire. And with the Empire constantly on the brink of the next war with the Mugen Federation, it becomes increasingly difficult to heed her Master’s advice and resist the call of the Phoenix, god of fire and vengeance.


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May 16, 2018

The Keju is a ruse to keep uneducated peasants right where they’ve always been. You slip past the Keju, they’ll find a way to expel you anyway. The Keju keeps the lower classes sedated. It keeps us dreaming. It’s not a ladder for mobility; it’s a way to keep people like me exactly where they were born. The Keju is a drug.

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