- Series: The Poppy War (Book 1)
- Hardcover: 544 pages
- Publisher: Harper Voyager (May 1, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062662562
- ISBN-13: 978-0062662569
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 162 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Poppy War: A Novel Hardcover – May 1, 2018
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“The “year’s best debut” buzz around this one was warranted; it really is that good.” (B&N Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog)
“A thrilling, action-packed fantasy of gods and mythology...The ambitious heroine’s rise from poverty to ruthless military commander makes for a gripping read, and I eagerly await the next installment.” (Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns)
“A blistering, powerful epic of war and revenge that will captivate you to the bitter end.” (Kameron Hurley, author of The Stars are Legion)
“In The Poppy War, RF Kuang draws on history and myth to tell a relentlessly unforgiving story of war, vengeance, power and madness, with larger-than-life characters that evoke sympathy and rouse terror. Brace yourself.” (Fonda Lee, award-winning author of The Green Bone Saga)
“Battles. Bloodshed. Drugs. Amazing, amazing characters. Read it!” (Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M)
“An original and engrossing tale of the coming of age of a talented young soldier amid the horrors of invasion and genocide.” (Anna Stephens, author of Godblind)
“A powerful, emotional journey, compellingly written.” (Adrian Tchaikovsky, award-winning author of The Children of Time)
“Debut novelist Kuang creates an ambitious fantasy reimagining of Asian history populated by martial artists, philosopher-generals, and gods [...] This is a strong and dramatic launch to Kuang’s career.” (Publishers Weekly)
From the Back Cover
She is a peasant.
She is a student.
She is a soldier.
She is a goddess.
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.
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- Solid, enjoyable world-building, with the competing philosophies of shamanism, the push towards modernization and conformity, and the historical ebb and flow of power and subjugation being the standouts. I found myself oddly intrigued by the history of martial arts.
- The military portions, while exceedingly brutal (do NOT mistake this for YA and give it to your child -- hell, even if you're an adult be prepared for graphic violence, including sexual), were a lot of fun. There's a mix of practical warfare, including chemical weapons and incendiary devices, with magical stuff that was honestly pretty engaging.
- A common problem when you bring gods and magic into fantasy is "Why is there any conflict if the characters are this powerful?". That is not present here. The consequences of trying this are shown, and they are BANANAS. It's great.
- If you like characters who are allowed to be horrible people, then you will not be disappointed here. I saw another review that said the heroine seemed insane by the end. This is a feature, not a bug. Between the very graphic war crimes and what we learn of the human relationship to the gods it's amazing anyone is still remotely functional by the end.
- You get to the end and it's like...wow. This can't end well. I consider this a plus.
- Did feel like the first book could have been condensed. The primary conflict didn't come into play until 40% of the way through, after which the military portion kicked in and carried it through to the end. (Oddly you could conceivably start with Book 2, since it even included its own prologue.)
- The style may be hit-or-miss for some. It lacks the stuffy tone of Tolkien-esque Epic Fantasy, which I appreciate, but occasionally veers into Quippy Territory. Depending on your preference this may be a pro or a con.
- Very particular point: May read a little weird if you're a Japanese-American. This is influenced by real atrocities committed during the Sino-Japanese War, so if you're not willing to think about that ugly bit of history just skip it entirely, but oddly what bothered me more was that the Japanese proxy race were described in the same generalized terms of hive-minded fanatical hordes that were used to describe Japanese-Americans during World War II. There's a touch at the very end that indicates the culture isn't uniform evil, but we never seen anything to challenge their depiction as anything but sadistic monsters. There are also some textual reasons to present them as one-dimensional, and it may be challenged in the second book. Obviously this didn't keep me from enjoying the book, and it may not bother others at all, but if you do happen to have this background and just wanted to settle down and enjoy some Asian-inspired SFF do not be thrown.
All in all, a little bumpy but intriguing enough that I'll be checking out the sequel.
The last third of the book is... harrowing. If this is the first of three books, I'm not quite sure that I can take the remaining two. This third of the book focuses on the invasion by the Mugen Federation, the analog of Japan, similar to Japan's predation before and during WWII. Three specific atrocities have been adapted for this story: the comfort women, Lab 731, and the rape of Nanjing. The book is dedicated to "Iris," who I take to be Iris Chang, the author of a history of the atrocities in Nanjing. I've read that book and after reading this book, I can say truthfully that for me the fictionalized account is more disturbing because of the way the characters respond. The writing is so vivid and haunting that it's almost like you're there with Rin and her cohorts. You're with them as they come across the atrocities. It's not enough that the city's inhabitants were killed, it's the creativity displayed that will turn your stomach. The violence is present and brutal, but it's not gratuitous. And you see how soldiers respond to exposure to these sights. While these horrors are awful enough, it's the unraveling of our characters who are confronted with them and what they do that is heartbreaking. What happens to Rin is believable because it's a logical outcome from what she's experienced and endured and the power she can command.. Possible spoiler: Her revenge is catastrophic and you could draw a parallel with the atomic bombings too, just even more devastating.
This is an extraordinary book, but at the same time I can't say that I'm glad I read it because the depiction of war is so heavy-hitting and brutal. It is definitely worth the read, but be warned; this isn't a book you can finish and set aside, forgettable.