The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang review

Hello!  Welcome to another review here on the Swordsmith blog, westu hal to you.  I do hope that you are reading something awesome and that you are staying safe.  I am bringing to you today of one of the better fantasy books that I have read this year, arguably one of the finest examples of how secondary creation can be employed to wonderful effect – welcome to my review of The Poppy War by R F Kuang!

Before we get any further here is the premise for you

The Premise

When Rin aced the Keju – the test to find the most talented students in the Empire – 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 had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free from a life of servitude. 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. Fighting the prejudice of rival classmates, Rin discovers that 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 psychoactive substances and a seemingly insane teacher, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive – and that mastering these 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 Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most people calmly go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away…

The Review

Coming straight out of the blocks here, I really enjoyed this.  I connected well with Rin as a character and Rebecca does an incredible job of building this world, it really is a masterpiece of secondary creation.  Before I move into the characters, this was an interesting blend of a plot/character driven book.  What I mean is that the characters do drive this book, but the plot also drives the characters forward, hence the hand the hand.  This lends the book to have quite an episodic feel, which was very enjoyable and really allowed me to pace myself while reading.

Coming to the characters, Rin is your major POV in this book.  I really like her as a character, she stands up for herself and always does what she feels is necessary/right to achieve.  I think this is why some people don’t like the book, characters can be dislikeable. She does what she thinks, what she feels, and certainly does think about situations.  She is forced to, she is a war orphan, different in many ways to those around her but succeeding where she is not supposed to when she gets into Sinegard.

The book is divided into two parts, the first dealing with Rin and her induction and education at Sinegard and then the next part.  The next part deals with a fierce invasion of Nikan by the Mugen Federation and it is brutal, Rin will play her part.  I think it is a fairly accurate portrayal of the impact of war, invasion and brutality on the students and Rin, I have wondered how would I react in a situation when faced with this, the honest answer is I don’t really know.  You follow Rin and her perspective throughout this, she becomes attached to an elite unit and the story builds to an explosive, twisting and exciting final act.

This was such an interestingly built world, it really is secondary as it’s finest and Rebecca weaves the fantasy in.  It slowly becomes apparent, after events at the Sinegard school and is explored as the reader moves through the book, this goes hand in hand with the magic system which is pretty awesome.  It is an interesting magic system, I am admiring of the way that Rebecca develops it through the book and I am told through the series, which I am really excited to dive into as soon as I can.

So this is easily a book that I would recommend, it has everything with an engaging heroine and brilliant plot that twists, is exciting and brutal in places.  It really is a fantastic example of secondary creation and how an author can take real world events, and use them to such great effect.  I enjoyed the book all the way through, the beginning has that wonderful feel of leaving your home for your destiny and a sense of freedom (something that I really empathised with).  The book’s plot develops wonderfully, pulls the characters along and sets the scene so nicely for the next one, I cannot wait to continue my journey with Rin.

That’s all from me, westu hal, stay safe and I hope that you are reading something awesome.

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