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The Poppy War: A Novel Paperback – April 23 2019
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“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.
“The best fantasy debut of 2018...This year’s Potter.” — Wired
“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
“The “year’s best debut” buzz around this one was warranted; it really is that good.” — B&N Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog
“A thrilling, action-packed fantasy of gods and mythology...The ambitious heroine’s rise from poverty to ruthless military commander makes for a gripping read, and I eagerly await the next installment.” — Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
“A blistering, powerful epic of war and revenge that will captivate you to the bitter end.” — Kameron Hurley, author of The Stars are Legion
“In The Poppy War, RF Kuang draws on history and myth to tell a relentlessly unforgiving story of war, vengeance, power and madness, with larger-than-life characters that evoke sympathy and rouse terror. Brace yourself.” — Fonda Lee, award-winning author of The Green Bone Saga
“Battles. Bloodshed. Drugs. Amazing, amazing characters. Read it!” — Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M
“An original and engrossing tale of the coming of age of a talented young soldier amid the horrors of invasion and genocide.” — Anna Stephens, author of Godblind
“A powerful, emotional journey, compellingly written.” — Adrian Tchaikovsky, award-winning author of The Children of Time
“Debut novelist Kuang creates an ambitious fantasy reimagining of Asian history populated by martial artists, philosopher-generals, and gods [...] This is a strong and dramatic launch to Kuang’s career.” — Publishers Weekly
“The narrative is an impactful, impressive symphony of words that grant life to this incredible morality tale. Setting the stage for an epic fantasy is an understandably enormous undertaking, but Kuang does an exceptional job of world and character building.” — RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 stars, Top Pick!)
“The book starts as an epic bildungsroman, and just when you think it can’t get any darker, it does [...] Kuang pulls from East Asian history, including the brutality of the Second Sino-Japanese war, to weave a wholly unique experience.” — Washington Post
“[The Poppy War is] strikingly grim military fantasy that summons readers into an East Asian–-inspired world of battles, opium, gods, and monsters. Fans of Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings will snap this one up.” — Library Journal (starred review)
“This looks like a good match for readers of Red Rising.” — Omnivoracious (10 Highly Anticipated New Science Fiction and Fantasy Books)
“The Poppy War is a masterful piece of fiction.” — S. Qiouyi Lu for the B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog
“A young woman’s determination and drive to succeed and excel at any cost runs into the horrors of war, conflict and ancient, suppressed forces in R. F. Kuang’s excellent debut novel, The Poppy War.” — The Skiffy and Fanty Show
“Kuang ambitiously begins a trilogy that doesn’t shy away from the darkest sides of her characters, wrapped in a confectionery of high-fantasy pulp. [...] The future of Rin in this world may appear quite dark, but that of the series seems bright indeed.” — New York Daily News
“A complex, sprawling, ambitious novel, part coming of age and part tragedy of power, that uses motifs and influences from the 20th century. It reminds me tonally of Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough and Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King, [and] in setting of K. Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter.” — Tor.com
“A complex, challenging, and incredibly ambitious novel.” — Vulture (The 10 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of 2018)
“If you have read and enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, or Sabah Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes then you are likely to enjoy this.” — Sammy’s Shelf
This Summer’s Hottest New Books For Every Type of Reader — Popsugar
“I can safely say that this will be the finest debut of 2018 and I’d be surprised if it isn’t one of the top 3 books of the year full stop. Spectacular, masterclass, brilliant, awesome [...] Simply put, R.F. Kuang’s “The Poppy War” is a towering achievement of modern fantasy.” — Fantasy Book Review
“This isn’t just another magical, fantasy world with artificially fabricated stakes. Rin’s journey and the war against the Federation feel incredibly urgent and powerful [...] R.F. Kuang is one of the most exciting new authors I’ve had the privilege of reading.” — The Roarbots
“[THE POPPY WAR] feels entirely immersive and rich in a way that kind of sucks you in [...] It’s a treasure trove.” — Utopia State of Mind
“The Poppy War was a fun, engrossing, journey to a world I wish I could visit and a school I wish I could attend. With its strong characters, interesting world building, and intriguing plot it is a great read that I would recommend to anyone.” — The Quill to Live
“The book kicks arse, and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a cracking debut, and one I recommend without reservation.” — Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviews
“This novel has already rocketed up to the top of my list of favorite fantasy reads of all time. It was everything I wanted and more.” — The BiblioSanctum
From the Back Cover
Peasant. Student. Soldier. Goddess.
When war orphan Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the academies—she surprised everyone: test officials, the guardians who wanted to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise, and even herself.
But being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not easy at Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan. Targeted by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers that gods long thought dead are very much alive, and that she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly mythical art of shamanism that could be the weapon the empire desperately needs.
While Nikara is at peace, its enemy and former occupiers, the Federation of Mugen, bides its time . . . and a Third Poppy War is just a spark away. Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. Yet as she discovers more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity.And it may already be too late.
- Publisher : Harper Voyager; Reprint edition (April 23 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062662589
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062662583
- Item weight : 372 g
- Dimensions : 13.49 x 2.21 x 20.32 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from Canada
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First off, let me say that the book is well-written read for all that.
My problem lies with expecting to see something new and different, but all I really saw were the same fantasy tropes that have been around forever. The orphan child with the mysterious background. The Chosen One. Hidden magical powers. Gods run amok. I think the only thing that was was even remotely new was that the book is set in an alternate historical China, or that's what I felt it was. I was disappointed, and even though, like I said, the writing was good, I found that disappointment colouring my read.
My other problem was with the protagonist, Rin, the orphaned peasant girl with the dark skin. This is her story, but I felt that things were just happening to her. I don't know that I felt her grow from her somewhat naive 16 years of age at the beginning of the book to her beaten, tortured, suffering (according to her words near the end of the book), 19 year old self. I was told that she did, but I never FELT it. At one point, she's yelling at one of her close friends, crying out that she's suffered fro so long, been beaten and tortured and betrayed and near killed etc... so she deserved getting her revenge, and I thought... but were you really? I was told she did, but.... I dunno, she never really came alive for me.
And you know, this book is rather grim-darkish. It's not promoted as such, but I think it really is. In the last third of the book, things get very violent and dark and at times just downright horrific.
So, anyway, I really didn't get what all the big excitement was about. Will I read the second book that's due out this summer? Probably, but I'm not in any rush
I also lived the MC Rin as she was interesting, yet deeply and obviously flaws in some ways. Her character grew throughout the novel but I can tell she has a long way to go and it nice to read about someone who felt like they could be a real person with real fults.
EDIT: lowering review even more after forcing myself to finish this dumpster fire of a novel. This book really left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I'm missing something since everyone else seems to love it; but the pacing was awful; the "fantasy" elements were not imaginative (more like common "east" type kungfu ish themes), and instead of caring about things because I cared about them the author would go on and on about how much the protagonist cared. It just felt..... really forced and awkward. Joe Abercrombie makes me more woozy and empathetic in one sentence about a toenail being removed than this book could make me feel be describing YET ANOTHER vat of boiling babies or wtv her latest psycho idea is lol (but im completely serious).
I would recommend basically any other fantasy book or author. Although I think the price dropped to 1.99 on kindle since I bought it so maybe it makes a little more sense now.
Content warnings: Genocide; self-harm; drug use; substance addiction; misogyny; abuse; animal cruelty; rape; death (often graphic); torture; child death; starvation; mutilation; bodily experimentation; gaslighting; suicide; cannibalism (alluded to off-page, committed by background characters)
This is the best written book I've read so far this year. I can tell how much work R.F. Kuang has put into this book (and the fact that she wrote this when she was 19. WUT.) All the details, the history, the tragedy. This book is just so well crafted. It felt so real that I forgot I was reading a book. I like Rin as a main character too. I've read a few anti-hero MCs, but I notice that most of them view themselves as victims of circumstances and that's why they become what they become, but not her. At the end, she takes back her own power and takes 100% responsibility of what she did. I like what she said about Altan at the end. For him, he cannot help but become angry because of what happened to him. But for her, she CHOOSES to become angry. It's her choice that she's going to burn the entire world to the ground.
The only reason why I don't rate this a 5 star is because there is sooo much information to take in and my brain couldn't take it all in one read. So it's a me problem rather than the book problem. But honestly I didn't mind it at all because the information wasn't dumped into me. Since we're reading the book in Rin's POV, we get to learn about this world alongside her, so it doesn't feel forced or info dumpy. I would love to read it again someday and take notes of everything that I missed on the 1st read.
Top reviews from other countries
The main protagonist is a teenage girl called Runin Fang or Rin for short. She is an orphan from a previous war whose uncaring opium dealing foster parents are trying to marry off to a much older man for their own gain. Rin's only chance is to enter the Keiju, a test held country wide to find the cream of the crop and send them to prestigious schools. Rin not only passes, she is first in her whole province sending her to Sineguard, the top military school in the whole of her country Nikara. The problem is she is an orphan with no money or standing and the other teenagers there are mostly sons and daughters of nobles who have been training for this their whole lives leaving Rin both behind and shunned by her new classmates.
I loved this, it was like martial arts Harry Potter. The premise is great and Rin absolutely shines, you can feel her determination, her pain, tears and anger as she refuses to give up or be beaten no matter what is thrown at her. It was gripping, well written and I couldn't put it down. There are three acts to the book, that was act one, unfortunately the other two acts almost feel like they were written by different authors.
Act two has the start of a war break out forcing the students to be drafted to fight. Rin suddenly becomes childish, petulant and kind of pathetic, she loses all her fire and just about every other character comes across as hugely unlikeable as well. I can certainly understand her finding actually fighting, killing and seeing friends die pretty taumatic but it's like she's a different person completely. The whole pacing despite there being a war on also just seems to slow down completely and act 3 becomes even worse with Rin making stupid decision after stupid decision following another character out of some crazy loyalty that is never really warranted from the actual content. She barely feels like the main character anymore, just a puppet following along, so different from the firey spirited girl at the start. The ending is extremely unfulfilling with Rin a shadow of the person she starts as, I just didn't really like her by the end of the book. The Poppy War also has a huge tone shift from the first third of the book with some extrememly over the top violence and rape descriptions that seem needlessly dark in it's descriptions. I saw another reviewer mention it being a reference to the Nanking massacre during world war II and I can certainly see that being the case but it feels so unneeded and didn't really add anything to the story to me.
It's really frustrating because the start is absolutely excellent, the martial arts fights are exciting, Rin is developed well and I could feel myself really rooting for her with all the stuff coming her way, it was even emotional at times yet by the end I just didn't really care about her or what happened. I don't feel bad I read it but I find it hard to recommend overall. It has great ideas but the book sadly just isn't consistant enough in it's tone or characters to keep the pacing or enjoyment going.
+ Martial arts Harry Potter.
+ The first third of the book is fantastic.
- Act 2 and 3 are disapointing in their tone shift and character personality shift.
- Ending was terrible.
Reviewed in Brazil on April 26, 2021
This was one of those books that hooks you from the first chapter and stays with you long after you have finished it. Filled to the brim with action, and with a heroine you're not sure is a hero or a villain, the twists and turns of this book are sure to keep you hooked until the very last page. I only recently found out that this draws inspiration from the Second Sino-Japanese war and the Rape of Nanking, and I love, though am slightly disturbed that this takes inspiration from real life events.
I always enjoy a brilliantly written literary school and the Sinegard was no exception. Described as the elite military school in Nikan, which only accepts sons and daughters of members of the nobility, until Rin. Despite all the trials that Rin faces at Sinegard, there is one saving grace in the Master of Lore Jiang ( who is a cupcake and I adore him!). He teaches Rin the basics of Shamanism, how to reach the Pantheon, and then how to cut herself off from the God's. which is the exact opposite from what Rin wants to learn.
Rin is a beautifully written character, she has the best of intentions, but her thirst for revenge is what eventually takes over, and drives her down the path of the Phoenix God. Though not necessarily a "hero" you cant help but feel that Rin's choices are made from the heart and with the best of intentions, she simply feels that there is no other way to exact her revenge.
Altan is the reason for Rins choices and the main director of the path she takes. A boy that has had so much taken away from him, and far too much power given to him. He feels wholly the pain of the destruction of Speer, and the weight of being the last Speerly, until that is, he meets Rin. Together they make a hugely powerful team, however, there are those who believe them unnatural and unholy who would seek to ultimately destroy them.
This book is split into thee parts. Part one is mainly focused on Sinegard and Rins first year at the academy, learning who her supposed enemies and friends are. Part two focuses more on her training with Jiang and the initial onslaught of the Mugen heralding the start of the third Poppy War. Part three follows Rin as she is eventually put to use in battle under her commander Altan, and her realisation that everything she thought she knew can be turned upside down.
This was an easy 5/5 for me. I loved everything from the plot, the character and the world that Kuang builds. A must read for anyone looking for a dark and gritty Fantasy novel, with characters whose decisions don't always fall on the side of good. Though please do take note of the trigger warnings before reading.
Once I actually picked up the book though, I’ve got to admit that for the first third, my overwhelming thought was that it did feel a bit YA after all. And not just that, but a bit clichéd. This section revolves around a girl from a poor village studying hard and being accepted into an elite military academy. Inevitably, she has a tendency to be top of the class. Inevitably, more privileged students are awful to her. The writing and world building were great, and the pseudo-Chinese setting was refreshing, but it all felt a bit too much like something I’ve seen numerous times before. I also found it a bit unbelievable that the main character did quite as well as she did. I felt like more moderate success would have been just as satisfying and helped me suspend disbelief.
In the second third, the plot and the tone totally change. Instead of learning about war in a safe, theoretical manner, the MC and the other key characters are plunged into a brutal, bloody conflict with a neighbouring nation (which felt like a fantasy Japan). You certainly wouldn’t call this part YA. It’s very violent, with several quite disturbing scenes, and one standout horrifying one, in which a particularly sadistic occupation and massacre is described in pages and pages of horrifying detail. I’m still torn over whether it was needlessly gratuitous or a brave attempt not to sugarcoat the horrors of war. It was certainly memorable either way! Violence aside, this section is also notable for its interesting use of military strategy. Even if I had to read some of it with my hands over my eyes, I found this section more original and intriguing.
The final third, while maintaining the adult tone, feels different again. To some extent, the war recedes into the background, the stakes become more personal to the MC (albeit with global implications) and there’s a move away from stark reality tinged with magic to full-on metaphysics. It was definitely the most unique part of the book, particularly when combined with the MC’s increasing moral ambiguity (at best…).
Overall, an impressive but somewhat unbalanced and tonally inconsistent read.
Fang – Rin – Runin is a war orphan. A girl forced upon a merchant family from a poor province in a society where class and station mean everything. As you can imagine, Rin in looked upon as a burden that the Fang’s want to offload as soon as possible.
Sure enough, the moment Rin reaches fourteen years of age, the Fang’s arrange a marriage for her. She is to wed a man twice divorced and three times her age. Little wonder, then, that Rin rebels. The Keju – an annual national test to find the brightest students in the Nikara Empire – is approaching. Rin takes matters into her own hands. She’s a bright girl with a good mind, and through some artful maneuvering, manages to secure private tuition.
The trouble is, when Rin aces the exams, she finds her success is merely illusory, like fools gold. Why? Entry into Sinegard – the Empire’s most prestigious military school – doesn’t guarantee her troubles are over. Far from it. They’ve only just begun!
Prejudice, bitter rivalry, narcissism – from classmates and instructors alike, make Rin’s life a living hell. But this dark-skinned peasant girl with a strange accent from the south has one thing going in her favor. She’s not a quitter. And when she discovers she is one of only a few people in existence who can summon the power of the gods, well . . . events take quite a turn.
Alas, the gods are unpredictable. Vast in scope. Insanely passionate and impossibly cold and aloof. And when their majesty is brought to bear upon insignificant little humans, the results can be – and often are – catastrophic. Rin witnesses this firsthand when the Mugen Federation declares war upon Nikara.
Far from helping her take control of her own life, Rin finds her future thrown into jeopardy when an avenging god seeks to use her as its conduit onto the mortal plane.
As to how that goes, exactly, you’ll have to find out for yourselves. But in summation:
“The Poppy War” is a fantastically mystical story, operatic in scale, personal in its appeal, and one of the most entertaining, thoroughly satisfying journeys you will ever take through the pages of a book.
Prepare to have your perceptions altered.