The Poppy War

by R. F Kuang

Hardcover, 2018



Call number

PS3611 .U17



Harper Voyager (New York, 2018). 1st edition, 1st printing. 544 pages. $26.99.


A war orphan rises from her humble beginnings to become a powerful military commander, and perhaps her country's only hope for survival.

User reviews

LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
Opium is an undercurrent of the Nikara empire. The war with the Federation of Mugen brought it to these shores and only the powers of the Trifecta, the Vipress; The Dragon Emperor and the Gatekeeper who went to the gods and begged for power, have kept the Mugen Federation at bay.

The Dragon Emperor is dead, decades later, the Gatekeeper is missing and the Vipress sits on the throne and the Mugen Federation is still a threat.

In this world war orphan Fang Runin finds herself having to make a choice. She can marry or she can fight for her right to be in the Military Academy in Sinegard. There she finds a lot of obstacles and powers she didn't realise existed. Powers that are officially forbidden.

There's a lot in here and a lot of things that you can see will have implications later in the series. It led to another bad decision book club moment where I kept "just reading to the end of a chapter" until I finished the book. There were a few moments where the bad decisions felt more plot driven than character driven but I'm sure this will be worked out in later books. It's going to be an interesting ride. There were interesting philosophical moments where the author was looking at belief and how magic and belief could be linked and how it could have implications when you didn't believe. The magic is very shamanistic in nature which is an interesting change.

I hope there's a more human side of the Mugen Federation in later books because so far they're very single-minded and not very nice.
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
It's hard for me to say something that has not already been said about this novel but I will say that it was something of a stroke of genius to transmute the actual history of China into an epic fantasy and Kuang deserves every credit for not pulling any punches in the tragedy that she's telling. That said I'm not nearly as emotionally touched as I was by Bennett's "City of Blades," and that might be a function of how some of these characters we barely get to know before they're carried away. Then again, Bennett has had longer to hone his craft and this work is still damn amazing for a first novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member seitherin
The book is about the single-minded pursuit of power to achieve the personal ambition of revenge.
LibraryThing member jdifelice
I really liked the first half of this book. I love training montages and going to boarding school with characters. I really enjoyed watching Rin grow and prove herself and deal with a super brutal, no holds bar school life and world. The second half was still really good, but some of the decisions that Rin made just didn't make sense to me. I mean, I get why she made them, but they were really shitty decisions to make.
I enjoyed the author's portrayal of Rin and how she made me like a very flawed character, even if I thought she was nutso for most of the second half of the book. The development and character depth we got to see in Rin was amazing, and I felt like I understood her.

I really enjoyed the other characters in this book as well, especially Kitay and Jiang. They were great, and even though Jiang was mysterious, he still felt like he had a depth to his character that we don't often get to see.
The world building was really great as well. I liked that we got to see different parts of the Empire and learn about it's history - however messed up it is. It was really interesting, and I'd like to see more and see the different territories as well.

Everyone is also talking about the ruthlessness of this world and how battles depicted and things that happen are kind of reconstructions of actual historical events - which is true - so I'm not going to go into too much detail here. What I really got out of this and the fact that the author put it into the book was that war is terrible, and humans can do atrocious things to each other, but that doesn't mean we should do them back. The retribution and revenge tales going on in this novel, I think, are meant to demonstrate that just because someone did something horrific to you, doesn't mean you should do something horrific back to them. You then have to live with the consequences and aftermath of it.

Overall, this was a great novel and depiction of the brutalities of war. I enjoyed the character growth and development and the world created. Will definitely continue with this series.
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LibraryThing member Strider66
Pros: brilliant worldbuilding, compelling characters, thought-provoking

Cons: some brutal descriptions of wartime atrocities

Fang Runin knows the Keju exam is her only way out of a miserable village life working as shopkeep for her adoptive opium smuggling parents. And only Sinegard charges no tuition. But getting into the Empire’s preeminent military academy is just the first hurdle she must overcome, for war is coming to the Empire. And she’s going to use everything she’s learned to win it, even the power of the gods themselves.

This book is absolutely brilliant. The writing is lyric and feels so effortless you know the author worked HARD on it.

The book is predominantly character driven, which I normally don’t like, but Rin is such a fascinating character that I loved it. With so much intricate history to learn with Rin as she goes through her classes, I never felt bored. The supporting cast was equally interesting from the eidetic memoried Kitay, the other two girls in her year, and her rival, Nezha.

When the war starts there’s little talk of heroism, it’s a realistic portrayal of fear and butchery. There are some brutal descriptions of wartime atrocities committed by the enemy. Seriously horrific stuff. Like, nightmare fodder if you think about it too much.

The worldbuilding was solid. There’s multiple branches of history, various races with their own customs, the people on the mainland have different dialects. The politics even in the Nikara Empire were messy and complex, not to mention the relationship they had with their neighbouring countries. There are some WWII reference with regards to the naming of characters and some of the horrors that happen at the end.

While I’m not a fan of swearing in fantasy (or books in general) I’d say it was handled well here. It’s not excessive, and when it shows up it’s appropriate to the situation.

There are several philosophical questions the book asks, especially towards the end. I love books that make me think.

This book was brilliant. Pick it up if you haven’t already.
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LibraryThing member ladycato
This is a book with substantial buzz this year, with reason. Kuang takes many tropes of fantasy--the chosen one with a humble start, a boarding school with nasty classmates, chaotic gods--and gives them a fresh twist inspired by Chinese history and mythology. The book is also daaaaaark. It's on the way-dark side of grimdark. As excellent as the writing it, that level of darkness isn't necessarily my thing, and as the book neared end and became even darker, I felt that even more strongly.… (more)
LibraryThing member quondame
This poor orphan girl wins place in elite military academy tale starts out well enough and then gets bogged down and completely blows credibility in a horrific war and reprisals of staggering (mid-20th century++) levels. And worse it gets tedious with no particular flavor or value.
LibraryThing member xiaomarlo
Yeah, it gets pretty dark! But the darkness is earned. The protagonist's journey is epic. The character writing is so good. I'm super curious what is going to happen in the next book! Also, there is one character who died who I suspect might come back in the next book. We'll see. L
LibraryThing member rivkat
Fantasy with realistic atrocities, bringing comparisons with N.K. Jemisin’s work. Rin is a war orphan—the Second Poppy War has brought her China-analogue country to difficult straits, and she claws her way out of the provincies to the premier military academy by raw force of will. But once there she’s a despised outsider, even after she discovers her connection to the gods and the great powers they can offer. When Japan-analogue invades, she has to decide how much destruction she’s willing to unleash, and it’s a lot. Multiple genocides, mass rape, and other large-scale destruction leaving readers to ponder whether salvation is even possible after such horror.… (more)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

544 p.; 6 inches


0062662562 / 9780062662569
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