The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

*Spoiler free*

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.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book, especially from people I know I have similar tastes too and eager to take to always take their recommendations. I knew it was dark, I knew it would probably be on the denser side, I knew it would have war in the realm of high fantasy. I wasn’t sure how exactly I would feel about it, since these kinds of books tend to be hit or miss for me, but I was very, very eager to give it a shot. Trigger warnings: drug use, substance addiction, self-harm, racism, misogyny, genocide, bullying, abandonment, abuse, animal death, animal cruelty, brutal torture, brutal killing, brutal rape (off screen, but still incredibly violent)

Wow, were the people singing this book’s praises exactly right. I feel like I’m still reeling. The way things come together, the way it’s so packed with information, the way it’s so brutally vicious, everything about it makes it into the masterpiece that it is.

Honestly, I feel like I read an entire trilogy contained inside one book. And not even in a bad way! I feel like so much ground was covered that it could’ve taken up three books, but it somehow managed to be only one. There is so much information presented, so much happens, and so much changes. And somehow, it works brilliantly. I never felt like I was overwhelmed with the worldbuilding and I didn’t feel like things were unnecessarily shoved in there. Everything that was in this book needed to be there. It blows my mind because there’s still two more books! This world is going to be huge. This series is going to be something to behold.

This book features a school! I always find fantasy books with schools in them to be fascinating because I feel like it really lends to the worldbuilding. It’s an easy way to see what makes this world tick. The training that Rin goes through, the hardships she faces, the challenges she overcomes. Everything about her experience at Sinegard was fascinating. I loved seeing her grow and I loved how slowly and how thoroughly that happened.

I also loved the growth of the world. In the beginning, the politics are very outside of Rin and just mentioned in passing. She knows they’re going on because they’re talked about at Sinegard, but she isn’t really involved. But as she gets older and as the war starts to get intense, she gets more involved. I really, really loved how it happened. It felt realistic and I liked how it was grown into.

Speaking of the politics, WOW are there a lot of them. I felt like there were information dumps throughout the book, but they were good information dumps? I never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. So much information is presented pretty much throughout the book. But it’s done in a way that makes it interesting and I never felt bogged down.

This book is dark. I found the first half to be dark, but wow is the second half a whole lot darker. And it just descends from there. And it’s the kind of darkness that festers, that you don’t quite realize is there until things come together. Looking back, this book is DARK. Dark, dark. When it gets to a certain scene, a scene that’s incredibly, incredibly brutal, was when I started to connect everything and saw just how dark this book is. It’s horrifying, but done in a way that I couldn’t help but appreciate what the author did.

Speaking of the author, she’s a freaking genius. This world is HUGE. There’s so many moving parts, there’s so many things that certain people don’t know but other people do, politics flying this way and that, and building an intricate upon intricate world. And she did it in such a way that I was able to understand everything and be fascinated by it.

I didn’t fully connect with the character relationships, even though I did fall completely in love with Rin and pretty much all of them. I feel like there was so much going on, that the character relationships took kind of a back seat. That doesn’t mean that weren’t wonderfully done, because they were, I just didn’t fully connect with them. I do feel like they will be explored more deeply in the sequel and I am looking forward to that!

This book does have magic, but in a way that’s still being discovered. I loved the seemingly endless depths to it. I’m eager to know more. I feel like there’s still so much undiscovered. And with how expansive the world is, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what other secrets the magic of this world holds.

The fact of the matter is, shove Game Of Thrones deeper into the trash and adapt this book. It truly is that good.

Really, this book blew me away. It blew me out of the water, it knocked my socks off, it left me breathless. It’s truly incredible. THE LAST FREAKING LINE SENT MY HEAD SPINNING IT WAS BRILLIANT. All in all, if you feel you’re able to handle this book, I highly, highly recommend checking it out!

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