The Poppy War
“I have no doubt this will end up being the best fantasy debut of the year [...] I have absolutely no doubt that [Kuang’s] name will be up there with the likes of Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin.” -- Booknest
A Library Journal, Paste Magazine, Vulture, BookBub, and ENTROPY Best Books pick!
Washington Post "5 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novel" pick!
A Bustle "30 Best Fiction Books" pick!
A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.
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.
Debut novelist Kuang creates an ambitious fantasy reimagining of Asian history populated by martial artists, philosopher-generals, and gods. War orphan Fang Runin ("Rin") escapes abusive foster parents by gaining admission to the Nikara Empire's prestigious military academy. Though stigmatized because of her peasant background, she earns top grades and wins the annual martial arts tournament. But she refuses a typical apprenticeship and instead goes to study with the academy's disreputable Lore Master Jiang, who despairs of reviving the discredited shaman traditions. Finding her way to the home of the gods, Rin is forced to choose between obeying her master's warnings against abuse of power and unleashing divine retribution when the island nation of Mugen, armed with chemical and biological weapons, invades and massacres civilians. Kuang highlights the horrors of war, especially the moral and emotional toll on combatants who employ scorched-earth strategies. Heroic responses pale in view of the collateral damage that they trigger, and the novel does not allow its characters to slough off their culpability for channeling godly powers. Readers may empathize with Rin's desire for vengeance, but any thrill at her success is matched by horror at its costs. This is a strong and dramatic launch to Kuang's career.
Regardless of your beliefs in eastern or western culture - the discussion on free will is on fascinating display with some fun personalities and strong heroin at the center.
I absolutely adore this book and series especially in the realistic portrayal of violence and evil that mirrors real events in China before and during world war 2. There’s no sugarcoating the way the characters are negatively effected and how badly the suffer in the midst of this terrible war.
loved this book and was captivated throughout its entirety :) there were some slight issues with pacing that other reviews talk about as well, but that shouldn’t deter you from reading this book because it’s genuinely amazing. The violent scenes that come in the later chapters were not there solely for shock factor or anything either, as they were all portrayals of real war crimes that occurred in China during the Second Sino-Japanese war. There were also a lot of cultural “Easter eggs” that I loved (as a Chinese person) coming across as I read, since I understood their origin :)