Book Review of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Reread)

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

530 pages

Published 5/1/18 by Harper Voyager

ISBN: 9780062662569

Genre: Adult Fantasy

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*Click on photos to view original source

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.


Trigger warnings: War scenes, vivid descriptions of murder (both adult and child), rape, drug use, self harm, genocide, bullying. Proceed with caution when picking this book up!

I’m so happy I decided to read this one because I missed out on so much information. When I read this back in 2018, I think I was dipping my toes in the fantasy pool. I don’t think I was as interested in fantasy as much as I am now. With that being said, this wasn’t a perfect read for me, but I’ll get to the flaws later.

I’ll start with all of the positives. The writing is well done and easy to understand. I thought it was going to read like a young adult novel, but that’s not really the case. It doesn’t info dump on you like a lot of fantasies will do. Kuang takes it steady with world and character building. There was a great balance of being at the academy and fighting the war. It’s so brutal, and I don’t think you find that kind of brutality in war novels. I’m not saying that it’s fun to read, but it makes me want to flip the pages faster. It’s not all sad, though. There is a lot of bonding between characters, and there’s a lot of humor and wit. It just flowed so well.

Typically, a fantasy will bore me with the history of the world. Authors tend to make it one note, and it makes me want to skim it and move on. I think this accomplishes world building in a fun way. The characters explain what’s happening through the history of their people / city / empire. You learn about Shamans, Gods, Cike, etc. I thought it was interesting, but a lot to learn about. Thank goodness all three books in the trilogy are 500-600+ pages. It allows it to have that much information.

Amateurs obsess over strategy, Irjah had once told their class. Professionals obsess over logistics

Moving on to what didn’t work for me. I’m sure a lot of readers see Rin as a strong main character, but I just couldn’t get on board with her. I know that her journey up to this point has only been full of hard work and determination, but her demeanor hit every nerve.

Continuing on with Rin, the scene where she gets her period was just so unrealistic. I thought that was a poor way of handling it, even though I’m sure that’s how someone would want to handle it in that situation. I won’t spoil anything for you, though.

Overall, this book was much better than I expected. I don’t know why I didn’t focus on it the first time around, but that’s beside the point. I highly recommend this if you love fantasy and can handle all of the triggers that tag along. I’m hoping it only gets better from here.

Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, translator, and the Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale. Website: rfkuang.com


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Three, Three Star, Mini Reviews!

The Poppy War

By: R.F. Kuang

Published: May 1, 2018 by Harper Voyager

ISBN: 9780062662569

Pages: 544

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:

Rin, a war orphan from Rooster Province, is about to be married off by her foster parents, The Fangs. She refuses to let it happen, and decides she wants to take the Keju test (an Empire wide test that finds the most talented students to study at Sinegard). Of course, she ends up passing with flying colors it and being at the top of everyone else. When she arrived at Sinegard she learned that she didn’t fit it, being the dark-skinned peasant that she was. She soon discovers that she has a power of shamanism, which not many have. From there is takes a turn, and it involves Gods, federations, and of course…War.

Review:

I could see how this received such praise, but I just didn’t find it to be that good. There were some problematic events that took place and it just completely made me not look at the book the same way. The beginning of the novel was honestly the best part of the story. I enjoyed learning about Rin and her studies at Sinegard, before she became dramatic and rash. My favorite character from the whole novel was probably Tutor Freyik who helped her study for the test and even escorted her to Sinegard.

Everyone mentioned that it read in between a young adult fantasy and adult fantasy. I honestly felt like it leaned more towards young adult. It was a very entertaining read, but I wanted more from it. I wanted it to be dark and gruesome. It definitely lacked, and that’s the main reason I picked this up. For all those reasons I couldn’t bring myself to give it 4 stars.


 

The Two Towers

By: J.R.R. Tolkien

Published: September 18, 2012 by Mariner Books

ISBN: 9780547928203

Pages: 325

Genre: Classic/Fantasy

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:

This is the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I will try to be vague and brief. In this second installment, you follow all the characters that have been split up after what had happened in the first novel. You are still following Frodo, and all his companions and enemies, on his journey to destroy the Ring at Mount Doom.

Review:

I was actually a little disappointed with this one. It didn’t keep my interest 80% of the time I was reading it. I understand that the third one is the climax and this is just the in between. I don’t have a lot to say about it other than that. All the characters were the same as the first one, and they were continuing on their journey.

Side note: I don’t know if this is an unpopular opinion but I just love Smeagol. He’s hilarious. I’m glad we get more of him in this one. I watched the movie right after finishing the book, and I can definitely relate to Smeagol and all of his melt downs (haha).

I still recommend this one, just because you will have no idea what’s happening in the third book. Just know that it’s shorter and not that interesting. I still enjoy Tolkien’s writing though and I will obviously continue!


The Invention of Wings

By: Sue Monk Kidd

Published: January 7, 2014 by Viking

ISBN: 9780670024780

Pages: 384

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:

In this novel you are following a young slave, Hetty (Handful), and Sarah Grimke, daughter of a wealthy family. It takes place in mostly Charleston, but some of the characters travel north later on in the book. On Sarah’s eleventh birthday her parents, Mary and Judge John Grimke, gifted her Hetty as her slave. Sarah wanted no part of owning a slave. She knew that her goal in life is to do something large in the world. The 35 year span (1803-1838) of the novel takes us through a journey of these two women and how they try their hardest to live lives of their own. Eventually the two sisters, Sarah and Angelina (Nina), become one of the most famous and infamous figures of the abolition and women’s rights movements.

*If you did not know, this story was inspired by the real Sarah Grimke. In the author’s note at the end of the novel, Kidd tells us everything that was fact and fiction. I actually recommend you do read the author’s note.

Review:

In all honesty, I never really felt connected to any of the characters. It was heartbreaking to read what happened to the slaves, but I just felt like they all fell just a little flat. For that reason it probably didn’t pack a big enough punch for me to move the rating to four stars. I’m also not saying that I didn’t enjoy the writing and the story. The writing was beautiful, and I will probably read other novels by Kidd. I just figured for the rating of the novel on Goodreads it should have hit me harder.

I am going to recommend it to you though. I think that there is an importance to the novel considering the time period. A lot happened then and everyone should learn even just a little bit about it. If you pick this up and absolutely hate it you still will have learned just a little bit more that maybe you haven’t learned before.


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Let me know what you thought of any of these if you have read them.

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