TS Chan's Reviews > The Poppy War

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
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bookshelves: physical-owned

I wanted to love The Poppy War quite desperately given its inspiration (and gorgeous cover).

The Poppy War is firstly a welcome change to the standard western Europe medieval setting and secondly, it is an allegory to the history of China. The narrative casts a harsh light on the brutal history of early 20th century China, specifically the genocide of the Nanjing Massacre. The mythology and culture present in the story are also so closely depicted that the novel almost reads like historical fiction, albeit in a secondary world.

I loved these worldbuilding elements of the novel, but at the end of the day, they serve as a backdrop. Characters and their stories within that backdrop matter the most in elevating a book from just good to great. I had the unfortunate experience of disliking the primary character, Rin, pretty early in the book. Initially, I thought that she was still young during the first half of the book and hoped that she will get better. But nope, that didn't happen and in fact, she got even worse towards the end. Hot-headed, impetuous, and couldn't keep her stupid mouth shut when she needed to, I found myself getting irritated more often and not.

The Poppy War reminded me a lot of my experience with Red Rising. I liked almost everything about the story, except the primary character. In a single POV narrative, that can become a problem. And similar to Red Rising, I really liked the supporting characters in The Poppy War. I wished the story has more focus on them instead, and that they can come in as POV characters so I can get out of Rin's silly head.

As such, I thought a 3-star rating would be fair to balance out the pros and cons. I know a lot of readers liked Rin, but I failed to empathise with her character and it ultimately hampered the full value proposition this book could potentially offer.

Nonetheless, judging from the numerous awards that The Poppy War has been winning, please don't just take my word for it. For Western readers, in particular, it provides a near representation of Chinese cultures (the Keju test, for example), mythology (gods and deities - the Monkey King parable was spot on as well as the zodiac animal signs) and history (Chinese history in its entirety is very complicated. Similar to this book, there was an Emperor who first unified China - the tyrannical but visionary Qin Shi Huangdi who laid the foundation of the Great Wall and created the Army of the Terracotta Warriors).

And just one more thing, the trigger warnings are not to be ignored. The portrayal of the atrocities of war was truly dark and disturbing.

You can purchase the book from Amazon | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide)

You can also find this, and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
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Reading Progress

January 30, 2018 – Shelved
January 30, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
July 2, 2019 – Started Reading
July 5, 2019 – Shelved as: physical-owned
July 5, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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Audrey I also had similar feelings toward this book and Red Rising.


message 2: by TS (new) - rated it 3 stars

TS Chan Audrey wrote: "I also had similar feelings toward this book and Red Rising."

Yes!! I am not alone..


David's Book Meanderings What did you think of that ending? I actually really liked this story until the ending. It seemed to me that Rin and her group didnt even consider any other options besides the one that Rin ended up doing which REALLY bothered me. To me, they were just like, "well I guess this is the only way to save us" even though they hadn't really discussed anything else that they could have done with the powers they had at hand. Tried to keep this spoiler free as I know your reviews are spoiler free lol.


message 4: by TS (new) - rated it 3 stars

TS Chan David's wrote: "What did you think of that ending? I actually really liked this story until the ending. It seemed to me that Rin and her group didnt even consider any other options besides the one that Rin ended u..."

I didn't like the ending. Remember the conversation Kitay had with Rin after the event? That's how I felt as well. (view spoiler)


message 5: by Eric (new)

Eric Great review TS!


Audrey David’s wrote: “What did you think of that ending? I actually really liked this story until the ending. It seemed to me that Rin and her group didnt even consider any other options besides the one that Rin ended u…”

Was anyone else even involved in Rin’s decision? (view spoiler)I do wonder what it means for the next book.


message 7: by TS (new) - rated it 3 stars

TS Chan Eric wrote: "Great review TS!"

Thank you, Eric.


message 8: by TS (last edited Jul 07, 2019 06:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

TS Chan David's wrote: "Yes exactly! By the end of the book I didn't like anyone but Kitay. He was my favorite character and I really enjoyed him. But how do you root for characters throughout the rest of the trilogy who ..."

Same... while I enjoyed reading about the other characters throughout, Kitay is the one of the best.
(view spoiler)


David's Book Meanderings Yes^


ChopinFC Your review was spot on! I also didn't give 5 stars, largely because the main character put me off! Also I didn't like how the entire magic system revolved around using drugs...😵
Needless to say I decided not to read the second book, which have mostly lukewarm reviews.


message 11: by TS (new) - rated it 3 stars

TS Chan ChopinFC wrote: "Your review was spot on! I also didn't give 5 stars, largely because the main character put me off! Also I didn't like how the entire magic system revolved around using drugs...😵
Needless to say I ..."


Thank you, Rod - glad you agree. I'm not intending to read Dragon Republic either.
I was okay with the magic system, though, because hallucinogens have a significant role in ancient history, especially China.
The thematic message underlying the magic system is actually not bad, IF the reader managed to get the message that it is dangerous and of enormous consequences. Aside from the violence, this is the main reason why this book should not be categorised as YA at all. Even though the character acted like one.


message 12: by Haïfa (new) - added it

Haïfa Very well written and very well balanced review!! Great job love!


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