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Under the Poppy (Under the Poppy #1)

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  445 ratings  ·  110 reviews
FROM A WARTIME BROTHEL to the intricate high society of 1870s Brussels, Under the Poppy is a breakout novel of childhood friends, a love triangle, puppet masters, and reluctant spies.

Under the Poppy is a brothel owned by Decca and Rupert. Decca is in love with Rupert but he in turn is in love with her brother, Istvan. When Istvan comes to town, louche puppet troupe in tow,

Kindle Edition, 378 pages
Published (first published June 1st 2010)
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Please enjoy the second installment in the new series, Stefon on Literature. Take it away, Stefon!

It's the 1870s, and Brussells' hottest brothel is Under the Poppy. Club owners Decca and Rupert have though of everything: opium-addicted whores on swings, rent boys in costume, mute piano players, unrequited gay love, horny Gepettos...

I'm sorry, Stefon, horny Gepettos?

You know that thing where a master puppeteer uses his skills to create puppets so lifelike that a prostitute can't tell they aren't

I don't know what I was thinking when I added this, but it was likely along the lines of "Oh, this looks generally intriguing," rather than "Oh hey I don't really know anything about 1870's Brussels so maybe this will be a good introduction to it in the historical fic sense." Alas, the latter was not what the author aimed for, and a book that would have interested me very much several years ago does not do much for me now. In addition, the intrigue of gay erotica promised by the description
Ambivalent is how I feel about this book. One week after I finished it, I am finally writing a review. I needed this time to ponder the book, reread parts, and finally read reviews by others. Alas, despite these measures, I still feel uncertain about the contradictions the book instills in me.

First, the book received some acclaim (and even an award) because it deals with homosexual love, but I feel that the book only lightly touches upon this because the author is not comfortable enough (or brav
Whore. Whore whore whore whore. What the hell is this, the Holy Bible? No, it's a book about a brothel. Go figure.

Whore. This is the most used word in this book. It's used casually. It's used with a wink. It's supposed to make the book edgy. It fails.

Recently, this is one of my most hated words, and it makes me hate books which use it so casually. Especially - I'm sorry - if the author is a woman and employs it in the narration. Seriously, it's counterproductive. It's lazy, callous, and traitoro
Seregil of Rhiminee
Originally published at Risingshadow.

Under the Poppy is a mesmerizing, dark and erotic historical novel for adults. It's almost like a decadent dream that lingers somewhere between fantasy and reality. Once you start to read this novel and surrender yourself to its world, you're instantly hooked by the story.

There are several different elements in this novel. In my opinion Under the Poppy is an unforgettable story about love, unrequited love, lust, lovers, romance, friends, sex, eroticism, desir
May 12, 2015 Mike marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: small-beer
I recommended FSG try to acquire this lurid and powerful novel; their loss is Small Beer's gain. Beautiful cover, too.
(Re-posted from

How did I even end up with this book? Do you know what it’s about? Puppets. Puppets! Fucking puppets man. I hate puppets. The creep me the hell out. And ‘Under the Poppy’ is just crammed full of them. In the literal sense, in that there is traveling genius puppeteer Istvan who has created and stolen a whole troupe of puppets with which he performs well received (and oft times risqué) shows all across 1800s Europe. But also in the metaphorical se
This is a beautifully written book. It uses a non-standard format that works astonishingly well for the book's theme. (Love, love, love how Koja incorporated that theme.) It's written with an omniscient narrator, with shifting POVs, and the dialog is entwined with the narrative prose.

The rhythm and tone is stunning. The characters are delightful. I was even prepared to love the book regardless of the ending, but the ending was fabulous.

It's a thick read, though. This is not a fluffy book.

(I know
Ever since I read Kathe Koja's novel Buddha Boy a few years ago, followed by a few of her other YA books, I knew she had become one of my favorite authors. After doing some research, I learned that she writes not just YA, but also horror and erotic books for adults. I was eager to see whether or not her voice would translate well through adult fiction, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little hesitant. After all, she had created some of the most realistic teen characters I had e ...more
Robert Beveridge
Kathe Koja, Under the Poppy (Small Beer Press, 2010)

Kathe Koja has been doing this for twenty years now. Actually, a little more; her first novel, The Cipher, kicked off Dell's ill-fated, but brilliant, horror line Abyss. If I remember correctly, it was published in April 1991. Yes, I'm a big enough fan to be reasonably certain about that. The Cipher was unlike anything I'd read before, a perfect blend of horror, surrealism, and existentialism I came to call “horror-of-absence”, for lack of a mo
1. Do you know that person who always goes on about how - whatever. How original and daring and outrageous they are? How they don't have any patience for bourgeois affectations, and that they're just going straight for, like, blood and raw truth and odd drug habits? You know, they are the human equivalent of the poster for the David Fincher adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? And after a while your eyes just sort of glaze over from boredom, and then you feel kind of sorry for them, be ...more
Christy B
Gosh, I just loved this book. I loved it so much that I've been putting off writing a review because I don't know if I can do the book any justice, but I must write something about it to recommend it to folks!

Under the Poppy is a wonderfully beautiful, dark, lush neo-Victorian novel set during the 1870s. First, in a brothel, and then in Brussels. We meet the owners of the brothel Under the Poppy: Decca and Rupert, and then Decca's half-brother Istvan shows up. Istvan is a fantastic character, fo
In a historical city that could be 1870s Brussels stands Under the Poppy, a brothel with a flair for the theatrical, run by hard-edged Decca and stoic Rupert. But the unexpected arrival of Decca's brother Istvan, with his puppet troupe and tidings of war, brings unreset and change to the Poppy: the intrigues of politics and murder, hearts broken and won. Under the Poppy is a stylistic tour de force oftentimes hampered by that same strong style. A fantasy of manners in the way of Kushner's Swords ...more
Orrin Grey
I'm a bit surprised, I'll admit, to be giving this such a high rating. There's no speculative elements, not that I need speculative elements, but these days I don't read much that doesn't have them. Still and all, though, this was one of the best books I read all year. I absolutely loved it. I loved the style, the characters, the ending, and everything.

I didn't really expect to. To be honest, love triangles and brothels, I dunno, it sounded like something that could get on my bad side pretty qui
so I meant to review this forever and ever ago (like, in October when I actually read it) but I couldn't articulate what I wanted to say about it beyond "kathe koja is a genius and I love this book so much that I metaphorically weep whenever I contemplate its existence" so I didn't. but I've read so many lackluster and eh romance-y books lately that I felt it was my duty, as a citizen upon this earth, to at least TRY, and that is why we're here, let's go.

a basic, too basic, summary: under the po
Warren Rochelle
Under the Poppy won the 2011 Spectrum Award for Best Novel (given for positive GLBT content in speculative fiction), an award well deserved. Set in an alternate 19th-century Europe, in a brothel, and somewhere a train ride from Paris, with war imminent, this is the story of a love triangle. Decca, who is the co-owner of the brothel with Rupert, is in love with him. Rupert loves her brother, Istvan. When Istvan returns, with his puppet troupe, these old desires resurface, sharpened by the coming ...more
This is the second book I read as part of my guest stint on The Writer and the Critic. I'd never heard of Koja before.

Looking around on GoodReads it's clear that this book evokes strong reactions both ways in many people. And I too am riven by indecision about it. The writing is absolutely exquisite; Koja is a mistress of the evocative phrase, the perfect description. It's a delight to read her prose. This delight may be the only thing that got me through the whole book, and even then I skimmed
Bookventures Book Club
Am a virgin when it comes to novels by Kathe Koja. When i first received my copy of Under the Poppy, i thought that this was Koja's debut. After doing a bit of research (a.k.a google), i found out that the author has written quite a few other books including The Cipher and YA novels such as Budda Boy and Going Under. The most amazing part of my research was finding out that some of the author's books were considered for film or the theater. In fact Under the Poppy (which by the way is being rele ...more
Fascinating premise, unusual phrasing that is beautiful but often awkward, characters that are intriguing yet often underdeveloped, and rather lacking in actual sex despite the first half of the book being set in a brothel. Certain idiosyncracies of dialogue and narrative form are distracting and confusing -- such as switching points of view, locations, and scenes within a single paragraph and often within a single sentence -- and while there is emotion evoked within the story, there is also a c ...more
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Full disclosure: I only read just over half of Under the Poppy. What I did read was interesting, but I couldn't get into it -- I was reading to finish it, not to enjoy it, which is the point at which I'm trying to teach myself to stop reading (unless I need to read it for some academic purpose). Supposedly, according to reviews, the second half is great, but I am really not in the mood right now. I'm not going to donate my copy or give it away -- for one thing, it was a gift from my girlfriend - ...more
Tim Hicks
Three stars, No, five. Bah, I'll give it four.

I am another reader who usually sticks to science fiction and fantasy. This is neither, apart from being set in a world/place/time that is not quite ours.

First, be aware that it's densely written and a slow read. That's not to say it isn't well written, There are some hundred-word sentences with not one word that doesn't belong. And only very rarely did I wonder if Koja was thinking "Look what a clever writer I am."

The writing perhaps mirrors the
"Under The Poppy" is probably one of my all time favorite books. The story telling is amazing and the characters suck you in. It's an achingly beautiful love story that made me cry (tears of joy & sorrow), had me cheer and had me afraid to turn the page to see what was next.

December 2014
I've re-read this book more times than I can count. It's one of those books where you find new meaning and insight with each read. I find myself feeling sympathy with characters (Decca, Benjamin) that I used
Oh, I have tried with this book. Tried twice now. There is so much here that I should like, so much that I generally enjoy while reading, but if given a choice, I never pick this book up off the stack. I never feel compelled to keep reading. I get about a hundred pages in by hook or by crook, and then I find something more interesting to do. Like scrub grout.

It will get one more try. Third time has been the charm with several books that have turned out to be treasured favorites. But something m
If only she were Istvan’s true apprentice! or even Puggy’s, she could do a better job with the stagecraft than Jonathan, as willing as he is to fetch and build, he has no eye for it; he is an ear…. The idea makes her grin. Jonathan the ear of the Poppy, yes, as Puggy is the hands, as Omar is the fist, as Velma is the cooking pot. As Decca is the purse, as she and Laddie and the girls are, what, the holes…. And Mr. Rupert is the mind. An anxious mind, truly, see those furrows dug between his brow ...more
Theresa Crater
Delicious and dizzying, decadent like dark chocolate melting on the back of a tongue, I haven't read anything this good in quite some time. Constantly in motion, glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye, half-remembered as a dream when one wakes, Koja's novel gleams and winks and pinches, leaving us satiated but still doubtful the act was consummated. Won the Gaylactic Spectrum Award this year at DarkOver Con. Koja or Bacigalupi--really hard choice. But then who's monogamous?
Damian Serbu
It would be very difficult to give this book an accurate description, without perhaps scaring people away. I LOVED this read. Entirely enchanting and original. Koja has a very unique style, which takes some getting used to. Indeed, the first 50 or so pages are a challenge, until you are suddenly swept into an enchanting story. It has deep and abiding love. Betrayal. Pain. The gamut of human emotion. What a wonderful journey. I recommend it to eveyrone.
Niya B
I have enjoyed all of Koja's work that I've read so far and that makes me biased to liking this one, even though historic fiction isn't usually something I seek out, or enjoy.
As with all her other work, Koja explored the complexities that arise at intersections of power, sex and emotion deftly while littering her text with adjectives in a way that leaves a close reader stated but not overwhelmed. The characters are wonderfully dark, secure in themselves and their actions and proceed towards what
Technically this should be listed as "currently reading." I'm stuck somewhere around 1/3-1/2 of the way through on my Kindle, and I really wonder if I should've held out for a hard copy. The prose is striking, and I like a lot of the components of the world and characters, but I didn't connect with it, somehow.
I so want to give this 5 stars, it cries out for 5 stars; however, it would have been very easy to have made this a 5 star novel if someone, writer or editor, had taken care with little details. No matter how beautiful the prose, how intricate and interesting the story, if the reader misses the signposts, has difficulty following the flow, gets frustrated with having to backtrack constantly, then the author has failed him. My problem is the sudden and unmarked changes in POV; in the middle of pa ...more
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Kathe Koja (born 1960) is an American writer. She was initially known for her intense speculative fiction for adults, but over the past few years has turned to writing young adult novels.

Koja is also a prolific author of short stories, including many in collaboration with Barry N. Malzberg. Most of her short fiction remains uncollected. Koja's novels and short stories frequently concern characters
More about Kathe Koja...

Other Books in the Series

Under the Poppy (3 books)
  • The Mercury Waltz (Under the Poppy, #2)
  • The Bastards' Paradise (Under the Poppy, #3)

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“The stage is not only a world apart, it is a myriad of worlds, and in those worlds a man can have anything he fancies, if only he believes in what he sees.” 7 likes
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