Title/Author: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
In a nutshell (Publisher):
A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
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.
Verdict: A great page-turner!
Fang Runin (Rin) was a war orphan in the Nikan empire, raised by a family who didn’t treat her as one. Faced with the prospect of an unpleasant marriage, she was determined to take the Keju test and study at the prestigious Sinegard academy, a training ground for future generals and statesmen. Much to everyone’s surprise, not only did she succeed, she aced the test too.
Despite being an outcast at the academy due to her dark skin and her family background, she gained admiration from some of the masters, one of whom decided to take her as an apprentice.
Her skills and knowledge were tested when an impending war took place and everyone at the academy was affected. War turned out to be more than Rin could take. The skills she had acquired weren’t getting her anywhere in the war. She needed more than that. She needed to latch on to those Godly powers she had always hungered for. Should she listen to her heart and quench this hunger? Or heed Jiang’s advice? God’s powers are meant to help, right? So what’s the worst that could happen?
Violence and atrocities aside, this was indeed a page-turner for me. I understand this is a historical retelling (inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War and Raping of Nanking). So those who analyze it in detail (read: history buffs) might not enjoy this book.
I loved how Kuang developed the plot as much as the characters. Rin – the strong, stubborn, no-nonsense character; Kitay – the smart, funny wiry-haired boy, who’s also her best friend and my favorite; and Jiang – her unpredictable and infamous master. Rin’s character became more complex towards the end as her skills mature and the atrocities of war consumed her. Kitay turned out stronger and wiser than he appeared to be, and Jiang, I choose not to reveal, just in case you plan to read this book 🙂
Rin, passionate and eager to serve her country, found powers within her which she never knew she had. But her master, Jiang, advised her against using those powers, which frustrated Rin. Why can’t she use it if it’s used to fight the enemies and win the war? What is Jiang hiding? Is he to be trusted at all? And just who is this Altan Trengsin who is revered by all?
I liked how this novel blurred the areas of good and evil, right and wrong; how we, when consumed by powers, try to play God, yet at the same time err as humans. Ponder on this: What would you do if you literally have a God by your side, have powers as great as his/hers and able to bend the entire world to your will? What. Would. You. Do?
Be prepared for one unique retelling of Asian history populated by gods, martial artists and masters, magic and drugs. If those pique your interest, you might enjoy this. Be warned though, there’s a lot of violence (the war scenes especially) in this book, so I’m not sure if I want to categorize this as YA, except for its tone.
I’m looking forward to reading The Dragon Republic!
Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you plan to read her second book? If you haven’t, do you plan to read it? Please share with me your thoughts!
Till then, HAPPY READING!