Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang


Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Poppy War
Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover/ebook
Length: 527 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: May 1, 2018
Source: Hardcover from personal collection; ebook from library
Content Warnings: graphic depictions of violence and war atrocities


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.


This is an amazing fantasy book. The world building is nearly flawless. The magic system is fascinating. The characters are vivid and nuanced. Rin is an absolute badass.

This is the type of story that builds steadily, in a way that slowly but surely draws you in as Rin begins her journey at a prestigious military academy. The tone changes dramatically when the war begins. Be warned, the harsh, gruesome depictions of violence and war atrocities are hard to read but are important to the story as it explores complex themes of right vs. wrong and theory vs. reality of war.

This story was inspired by Chinese history during World War II, and you don’t want to skip the author’s note at the end of the book where she explains her extensive research and how it influenced events in the story.

This is by no means a light book, but it is absolutely worth the read.

Author: Caroline | Carolibrary

Hello! I’m Caroline! I am a teacher, a book lover, and a nerd. My passions include reading, writing, bookstagram, barre & yoga, baking, binging TV shows, and Star Wars. I love stories in all formats because they can transport you to a different world while helping you understand the world around you. I have always found books to be a particularly magical source of imagination.

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