Book Review: The Poppy War (the poppy war #1) by RF Kuang // spoiler free

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Release Date: 2018
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult


War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains. 


Rin, an orphan of war, decides to train for the Keju —an exam to find the smartest and most talented youth of the Empire— to escape her life with her foster parents who force her to work in their opium business and have plans to marry her off to an old merchant. To everyone’s surprise Rin comes top of the whole province.

She enrolls at Sinegard the best military academy in Nikan, where only the most elite students are trained.

Arriving at Sinegard, Rin is bullied by her classmates who see her as an unworthy peasant and would be glad to see her gone. She quickly realises that her position there is not set in stone, she must still pass the Trials.

With the help of an eccentric and somewhat mad teacher, Rin trains relentlessly with a determination to prove to her hostile classmates and masters that a dark skinned, peasant, orphan girl has as much right to be a student at Sinegard as everyone else.

At the same time, a war is brewing between Nikan and their old enemy the Federation of Mugen. And Rin will soon have to put her training into practice.


But now she had seen and suffered too much. The Empire didn’t need someone reasonable. It needed someone mad enough to try to save it.


You know when you read the first few chapters of a book and you’re overcome by a feeling, a knowing, that this book is going to stick with you. That you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but you can tell you’re going to love it? — that’s what The Poppy War made me feel.

• the writing •

The writing was exquisite. It drew me in, and kept me hooked. It felt like I was watching a movie in my head, everything was so vivid, mesmerising but also heartbreaking. From descriptions of the setting, to the history and world building. Wow. I’m completely in awe of the authors skill. With each chapter I became more and more obsessed with this world and this story.

I loved the elements of magic and mythology combined with the history and war.

There was constantly a lot of new information to process and so many characters that I had to start keeping a log of who’s who — but honestly that just added to my enjoyment.

The first portion is set during Rin’s time at the academy is slow paced. After that things really start picking up.

I cannot say there was one moment I was bored or uninterested, even during the slower chapters.

• the setting •

The setting was fantastic. I’m so used to reading western centric fantasy and this just made me realize how much I need Asian fantasy in my life.

Something that I enjoy most as a reader is learning through fiction. The Poppy War is based on real Chinese historic events such as the Opium Wars, the Second Sino-Japanese War and The Rape of Nanking.

I immediately found myself looking up these events, wanting to know more. It hit me so hard to find out that all these atrocities actually happened and people don’t speak about it.

This book while an enjoyable read was also very hard to read. It portrays the very real horrors of war and there were times I was crying my eyes out for all the suffering Rin had witnessed. (content and trigger warnings at the end of this review)


• the characters •

Rin, I admire the most. She fought tooth and nail for her place at Sinegard and didn’t let the others who thought she had no right to be there bring her down. She was fierce and determined. And yes when war came knocking she realised she wasn’t as prepared as she’d thought. War and circumstances changed her and she ends up making questionable decisions that I didn’t agree with, however I still wanted the best for her (I’m still worried about her and I’m so scared for her in the next books eeeek! ).

Altan was also another character I really enjoyed reading about. There were times I hated him but at the end of the day I think Kuang did such a great job creating this character who has been used as a weapon, treated like an animal, who is driven by vengeance and hate.

The character growth we see in the span of one book left me shook. Some characters I thought were garbage become dear to me (*cough* Nezha *cough*). Kuang makes sure we see the flaws in every character, the basics of human nature, the cruelty humans are capable of when they think others are lesser.

The ending left me teary eyed and a hunger for more. I’m sad that I didn’t read this book when it came out but now I’m glad because I can immediately continue on to book 2 and there’s not much time I have to wait till the final book is released 💃.

I really hope we get to see more development of the Cike crew. I feel like there is still so much I need to know!

I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible.

Was she now a goddess or a monster?
Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.

CONTENT WARNINGS: violence, murder, genocide, gore, rape, animal cruelty, human experimentation, torture, mutilation

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!


13 Comments

  1. You know, I’ve seen this book around instagram a lot and added it to my tbr pile.. but I never really read a full review about it. I loved how enthusiastic you sound about this book and I’m even more thrilled to discover that it is about Chinese history!! I had several exams in uni about all the events you mentioned so I guess it would be interesting to see how the author mixed reality with fantasy.

    Great review! ^^
    Sara @ Sara In Bookland

    Liked by 1 person

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