- Author: R. F. Kuang
- Series: The Poppy War #1
- Genre: Fantasy
- No. of pages: 531
- Dates read: 20.02.21 – 28.02.21
- Star Rating: 5 stars
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 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…
The HYPE surrounding this book was immense. All I was hearing constantly on YouTube and Twitter was how great this book was. I actually never heard any bad reviews regarding this book. So, when I heard the final book was coming out at the end of 2020, I knew I had to start the trilogy. And let me tell you, I am so glad that I did! Going into this novel I was expecting great things, the last couple of books I had read that were hyped never truly reached all of my expectations but this book did that and more so!
I knew going into this book that it was highly influenced from 20th Century China’s history. Loads of people on Twitter mentioned maybe researching a couple of things beforehand to understand context which I did and let me tell you it does help. While I don’t think you will enjoy the book less without the context I think the book packs an extra punch and it impacts you more when you have the extra bit of knowledge.
Kuang’s writing style was great. I I thought her description’s of places like Sinegard were incredible, I was wrapped up in her words when it came to learning about and exploring meditation and her writing was superb whenever Rin used her powers, I was literally on the edge of my seat I could not stop reading. Also, I was blown away by her knowledge of military strategy, she wrote this book at like 18/19. AMAZING!!!. The pacing I would say was a good solid medium there were some slower parts especially about halfway through the book but nothing too slow that it was unenjoyable. I found that her writing from the get go was really easy to get into. I was invested from the outset.
The amount of culture, history and world building that goes into this novel is immense. There was no vagueness to this story, everything was detailed and intricate, I enjoyed getting lost in all the details of this world. The world was seeped in history and I just want to read and learn more about it.
From the moment I was introduced to Rin I knew she was going to be such a great character. Her ambition was one of the stand out things I was drawn to. I wanted to see her succeed in life. You go on a journey with Rin and the amount of times I cried watching her continuously overcome a system set up against her was a lot. What I like about Rin is that she makes some tough decisions in these books, she lives in a world ravaged by war and it makes her such a complex and raw character. She has to constantly fight for everything she has or wants to have not just due to her class, or her status as a war orphan but also due to the colour of her skin, which was a major factor in the novel watching her navigate a world that is classist and colourist. And she rarely falters, she keeps fighting until the ends and she makes some very impactful decisions in this book that I haven’t seen that often. I think she is so raw and so real and I love that about her.
The themes detailed in this book like classism, colourism, drugs, war are written so incredibly well in the most raw and honest way, there is no holding back. The way Kuang described about how the system is set up to make people like Rin fail but make them feel like that have a chance to succeed was really really powerful. And as I just mentioned Rin is constantly having to fight for her place in a world that doesn’t want her, she is beating the system and the odds to get where she is which I believe to be super powerful.
So this review will never, ever do justice to how great this novel is. If you want heavy-hitting, action packed, gory fantasy set in a fictional 20th Century China then this is for you. Prepare to be super invested in the main character and expect the unexpected!
The next book I will be reviewing is Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. This is book 2 in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence. It’s a big book so I hope to finish it before next Thursday but we shall see.