Book Review – The Poppy War (Contains Spoilers)

35068705Title: The Poppy War

Author: R.F. Kuang

# of Pages: 530

Synopsis (from Goodreads): 

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.

While The Poppy War is a longer fantasy novel, I found it to be quite an easy read. A good fantasy novel has to find the right balance between providing relevant information to comprehend the story and oversharing. Oversharing information makes the story feel boring and tedious. I found this book gave us the information we needed to know about the Nikara Empire without burying us with too much information.

My favorite part of the book was how different themes were introduced throughout the story. The main theme in this story is referred to as the ‘Unlikely hero from humble origins trope,’ often referred to as an Underdog story. There are other concepts in the story such as;

  • Power vs. Corruption
  • Good vs. Evil
  • Enemies turn friends

I enjoyed the multitude of different characters that we were able to experience throughout the novel. Rin, deciding that a future in an arranged marriage is not what she wants, decides to take charge of her life and gets accepted into Sinegard. When she arrives, it doesn’t take much time for her to realize that she is very different from her classmates. She doesn’t let that stop her, fighting to earn an apprenticeship at the school. Along with Rin, you had a whole cast of other enjoyable side characters which added to the story. Here are a few of the important side characters we see;

  • Master Jiang – One of the teaching masters at Sinegard Academy. Mysterious master with a mischievous side. Primary mentor figure to Rin.
  • Nezha – Son of the Dragon Warlord. One of the top students at Sinegard. Had an ongoing rivalry with Rin.
  • Kitay – Son of prominent Sinegard family. Befriends Rin and is considered the smartest student of their class.
  • Altan – Last of the Speerlies. Outstanding fighter who goes on to command the Cike.

The Nikaran Empire has a rich history that intrigued me. Understanding it’s ancient history was paramount to the story that unfolded during the novel. Comprehending the first and second Poppy Wars allowed us to gain insight into the foreign relationship between Nikara and the Federation of Mugen. Along with understanding the military aspect of the book, we also needed to know more about the gods and Shamanism. Our first introduction of Shamanism is introduced by Master Jiang. We develop a better understanding of what it means to be a Shaman through multiple characters throughout the story.

I loved reading The Poppy War and I cannot wait for the sequel, The Dragon Republic, to be released this year in August. I am fascinated in building upon the information given to us in the first book. I highly recommending this book if you have not read it yet. If you have read The Poppy War, how did you like it?

rating system 4.5 stars




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