The Poppy War
2 journalers for this copy...
This is an Uncorrected Proof.
On Sale May, 2018
From Goodreads Summary:
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.
***Received via a Goodreads Giveaway***
The Poppy War is an interesting story. I was hooked from the start and had a hard time putting the book down. And that cover! Beautiful! (My only quibble is that Rin is not an archer.) What more could you ask for in a book?
The first third of the book finds our MC, Rin, take charge of her life by finding a way to, not only take the Reju-a test taken by the Empire's youth to find the brightest and most worthy to attend one of the prestigious Academies-, but dumbfound everyone around her by making it into the hardest to attain Academy, the Sinegard. Once in the Sinegard, she has to overcome her own insecurities and again take matters into her own hands to achieve what she wants. This part of the book is the best part, afterward, the author could have taken more than the three months she did to write the book to make it better. It had a lot of potential that was not fully realized.
Then going into the 2nd third of the book, Rin loses herself as the war barrels into Sinegard. She goes from a determined person who knows what she wants, or at least what she doesn't want. To someone bouncing with the tide, lost. And angry. Even more rash than when at the Academy and that is one of the points that I had trouble with...she just doesn't really grow much. She's rash, hot-headed, arrogant, selfish, she's remorseful...kinda...but never acts on that remorse. She doesn't really change much mentally by the end of the story. Mostly, she lets things happen to her. And then when she does decide to act, she commits genocide!! And then is rewarded for it! Beyond that and a couple of other things (info dumps, telling instead of showing), I still wanted to find out what happened in the book. It has potential and needed more than three months to write. But...by the end, I didn’t like Rin. Maybe she’ll redeem herself in the next installment? Either way, I doubt I’ll read the sequels.
The Poppy War is an engaging story with an amazing setting R.F. Kuang created and populated with an interesting cast of characters and gods. Take a quick jaunt over to her blog/author page and read her post: on the necessity of brutality: why i went there. The book deals with some difficult issues and this blog post lays them out better than I could recount them here. This is the part of the story that many people had a hard time with as it is very graphic. It is a story (part of history) that needs to be told. Unfortunately, Kuang missed the mark in that, other than the shock factor, you feel removed from it. You and Rin are told what happened by others that were there instead of it being a part of the story that Rin experiences first-hand. And so, it loses the impact it could have had (instead it just comes across as gross instead of me feeling horror-stricken that this did happen). You and Rin are not a part of the story. It might as well have been a history lesson from a history book for the reader.
I was so excited to receive this book as a giveaway, but I'm sad that this Uncorrected Proof does not have the map in it! There again, she has a picture of it on her blog. But...I'm still sad. As a Cartographer, I always love maps in books.
I definitely recommend this book to lovers of fantasy, military fantasy, and so many more!
FYI: I did edit my review and rating after several weeks of thinking about it. I so wanted to like the story more than I actually did. Hence, the reduction down to 3 stars and changing the review a little.
CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:
I hope you enjoy.
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Later: Some impressive world-building here, heavily inspired by the real-world opium wars and many of the WWII atrocities. It reminded me in some ways of the manga Code Geass, with an initially-sympathetic protagonist forced by circumstances into committing greater and greater acts of mayhem. Here, Rin winds up inflicting an A-bomb-level genocide, for which she does struggle with guilt a bit - before forcing all those lives, of people Other Than Hers, into the realm of statistics... When this causes a rift between her and someone very dear, she is forced to confront and accept the magnitude of her deeds, but as the book ends it seems she's been able to do that and to move on to the next major battle.
I did get a kick out of the author's 140-characters-or-less version of the story, a direct shout-out to "Avatar: The Last Airbender":
"everything was good until the fire nation attacked. wait. we are the fire nation..."
[There's a TV Tropes page on the book, with some entertaining tidbits.]
WILD RELEASE NOTES: