The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Even though this was the first book I read in 2021, I’m pretty sure that this will be one of my favorites from this year. The Poppy War is a grimdark east-Asian inspired historical fantasy centers around the a young girl named Rin. She is a war orphan from the first Poppy War, raised in a poor, opium-smuggling family that treats her as a servant. Rin’s only escape from a forced marriage is to pass a merit-based exam to enter Sinegard, Nikara’s elite military academy. In a surprising shock of events, Rin places into Sinegard, but finds that the experience is not what she expects: She is isolated as a poor and dark-skinned girl from the south, but as she rises in the academy ranks, she begins to realize that the gods of legend aren’t as fictional as people think. As a war is brewing, will she be able to survive and save her nation?
Normally, novels tend to excel in one of two categories: character development or plot development. Very few manage to do both well, but The Poppy War does and does so exceptionally. All character storylines are extremely interesting to follow, and the plot is well-paced, complex, and fascinating. Rin is a determined and headstrong protagonist who makes a lot of choices that readers probably will not agree with. However, her confidence and assertiveness compels the reader to support her no matter what gory or twisted option she chooses. Each detail is action-packed and engrossing, and all the battle scenes delivered believable and heartbreaking consequences.
Lastly, this book tackles some difficult themes. It retells the Rape of Nanking, in which Japanese troops attacked China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The impact of war on civilization is heavily discussed along with colorism and colonization. Multiple chapters delve deep into graphic scenes that involve murder, violence, and sexual assault, as well as exploring drug addiction, trauma, and self-harm. So if you do decide to try this book, please read with caution. —Review by Anika F. ’21
For those who enjoyed this book, Anika has recommended The Priory of the Orange Tree for you to check out!
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