Emily May's Reviews > The Poppy War

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
4622890
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, 2018

“But I warn you, little warrior. The price of power is pain.”

Holy hell, what did I just read??

➽ A fantasy military school
➽ A rich world based on modern Chinese history
➽ Shamans and gods
➽ Detailed characterization leading to unforgettable characters
➽ Adorable, opium-smoking mentors

That's a basic list, but this book is all of that and SO MUCH MORE. I know 100% that The Poppy War will be one of my best reads of 2018.

Isn't it just so great when you find one of those books that completely drags you in, makes you fall in love with the characters, and demands that you sit on the edge of your seat for every horrific, nail-biting moment of it? This is one of those books for me. And I must issue a serious content warning: this book explores some very dark themes. Proceed with caution (or not at all) if you are particularly sensitive to scenes of war, drug use and addiction, genocide, racism, sexism, ableism, self-harm, torture, and rape (off-page but extremely horrific).

Because, despite the fairly innocuous first 200 pages, the title speaks the truth: this is a book about war. All of its horrors and atrocities. It is not sugar-coated, and it is often graphic. The "poppy" aspect refers to opium, which is a big part of this book. It is a fantasy, but the book draws inspiration from the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanking.

It begins with one of my favourite things: a downtrodden orphan attends a fantasy boarding school. However, Rin doesn't get to attend her school by being "chosen" or "special". She works her ass off studying for the Keju test, which allows her to go to the prestigious Sinegard - the best military school in the country. I absolutely love the message this book sends about the merits of hard work and perseverance over genetics and natural specialness. Nothing is handed to Rin on a plate.

This first part is much lighter than the rest of the book, but I enjoyed it immensely. And there are still many challenges to be faced in these early chapters. Rin must go up against school bullies and racist teachers who don't want a backwater war orphan in their classes. But she also encounters friendship and delightfully quirky teachers who like to get high on opium. And secrets. Secrets like that of the shamans who can conjure gods and use their powers - but those are just a myth, right?

But there's trouble brewing outside the school's walls. War is coming and Rin and her classmates will be put to the test again and again.
If she went with him, she would help him to unleash monsters. Monsters worse than the chimei. Monsters worse than anything in the Emperor's Menagerie-- because these monsters were not beasts, mindless things that could be leashed and controlled, but warriors. Shamans. The gods walking in humans, with no regard for the mortal world.

This is where things get very dark. The strong world-building and carefully-crafted characters set us up to care even more when the action really kicks in and lives are threatened. It is the very opposite of the "mindless action scenes" I have been complaining about recently in fantasy novels. I cared so deeply about the characters that the action scenes were extremely tense and terrifying.

I feel like my heart was pounding for the majority of this fantastic story. I can hardly recall the last time I was this engrossed in a book, and I am so so glad there will be more books to come. It's just a perfect blend of action, memorable characters, vividly-imagined setting and a look at humanity at its very worst. There's no romance, but there is a wonderful enemies-to-friends relationship that I can't wait to read more about.

I am so very excited about this series and seeing where the author takes us next.

Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
1047 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Poppy War.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

May 15, 2018 – Shelved
May 19, 2018 – Started Reading
May 21, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-47 of 47 (47 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Wow. This sounds kick-ass. I love the fact that she works hard for what she gets. Great review


C Sarah Strafford This sounds exactly like my brand - I need it! Plus it’s so nice that it’s not another vaguely Medieval European fantasy world and that it’s a well researched Chinese fantasy world drawing on actual history. Great review, you made me want to read it right this second.


Emily May Laura wrote: "Wow. This sounds kick-ass. I love the fact that she works hard for what she gets. Great review"

Thank you :)


Emily May C Sarah wrote: "This sounds exactly like my brand - I need it! Plus it’s so nice that it’s not another vaguely Medieval European fantasy world and that it’s a well researched Chinese fantasy world drawing on actua..."

Thank you. I, too, am so glad to see fantasies outside of the same old bland European-inspired setting.


PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps 5 Stars from you always intrigues me, even if I’m not interested in reading the book.


message 6: by Mel (new) - added it

Mel Anie This book sounds like a such a great read. Great review! Hope to read it as soon as possible. Also that cover, looks like magic.


message 7: by Petrik (last edited May 22, 2018 10:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Petrik Great review, Emily! As an Asian who grew up learning about the history behind the inspiration for this book, I found this book to be very important to me. Also, just a friendly reminder, Second Sino-Japanese War is actually the main inspiration behind the book! I'm really glad you enjoyed this one! :)


Emily May Petrik wrote: "Great review, Emily! As an Asian, I found this book to be very important to me. Also, just a friendly reminder, Second Sino-Japanese War is actually the main inspiration behind the book! :)"

Thanks Petrik! And really? Some parts seemed so similar to the Opium Wars that I was sure it couldn't be a coincidence. Good to know! :)


Petrik Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Great review, Emily! As an Asian, I found this book to be very important to me. Also, just a friendly reminder, Second Sino-Japanese War is actually the main inspiration behind the b..."

Yeah! The author probably did use some aspect of Opium Wars (the usage of opium and Poppy) but the main inspiration behind the book was Second Sino Japanese War, specifically the Rape of Nanking... (horrifying events, seriously, the brutal parts you read in chapter 21 actually do happened!)


Emily May Petrik wrote: "Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Great review, Emily! As an Asian, I found this book to be very important to me. Also, just a friendly reminder, Second Sino-Japanese War is actually the main inspir..."

Oh, that inspiration definitely explains the extent of the brutality. I am familiar with the Rape of Nanking but not so much the overall Second Sino-Japanese War. Thanks for letting me know :)


message 11: by Petrik (last edited May 22, 2018 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Petrik Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Great review, Emily! As an Asian, I found this book to be very important to me. Also, just a friendly reminder, Second Sino-Japanese War is actually ..."

Yup, you're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed the book and hopefully more people will know about it. Seriously, it's really rare to have a heavily Asian inspired fantasy these days :')


Emily May Petrik wrote: "Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Great review, Emily! As an Asian, I found this book to be very important to me. Also, just a friendly reminder, Second Sino-Japanes..."

I know. There's so much history and culture in Asia; it's such a shame that it's rarely explored in mainstream fantasy. Please let me know if you find any other good Asian-inspired fantasy novels.


message 13: by StephTKO (new) - added it

StephTKO No romance! Damn it.


message 14: by Sierra (new) - added it

Sierra So glad there is no romance. A book doesnt need romance to be good!


message 15: by Zunaira (new) - added it

Zunaira Ghazal Is this a series?


message 16: by Jon (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jon Adams Excellent review. I felt the same way when I read it.


Petrik Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Emily May wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Great review, Emily! As an Asian, I found this book to be very important to me. Also, just a friendly reminder, Seco..."

I completely agree! I heard a lot of great things about Jade City, another Asian inspired fantasy but I haven't got around to it yet. I'll let you know if I do stumble upon a gem like this book again! :)


Debbie Fantastic review. I was feeling burnt out on fantasy but now I want to jump right back in and read this book.


message 19: by Rae (new) - added it

Rae Five. Five stars! Like I needed another tbr! 😤 😉


Kelsea This is definitely my favorite read of the year so far!


message 21: by Daniel (new) - added it

Daniel I hadn't heard about this but such a stellar review from you makes it an instant interest of mine. Added for sure.


Lekhana Gogineni I love this book with a passion and currently have been harping my friends to read it so I can have someone to talk about it too. I always look forward to reading your amazing reviews and am glad that you thought this book was as fantastic as I did. I loved how The Poppy War wasn't "sugar-coated" as you mentioned. It felt real to me--as real as a high fantasy novel can get--and I loved the characters as well (even though Rin's moral compass is a little questionable, especially at the end).


message 23: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Davidson I loved this book, all the stars. That violence was next level though, not for the faint hearted.


message 24: by Türkan (new) - added it

Türkan WOW, awesome review that got me totally hooked. I feel like I need to read this book now and experience every single thing for myself!!!!


message 25: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary Kay Amazing review. Just moved up my "to read" list. Thanks!


Mara YA Mood Reader You had me at “opposite of mindless action scenes”! I’m soooooo over action & war scenes but I love fantasy so much and they go hand in hand it’s heartbreaking


message 27: by Brian Turner (new)

Brian Turner Good review, but I'm going to have to wait until the ebook comes down in price - £9.99 is a bit steep!


Emily May Brian wrote: "Good review, but I'm going to have to wait until the ebook comes down in price - £9.99 is a bit steep!"

It is indeed. I got mine from the library :)


message 29: by George (new) - added it

George Jankovic Wonderful review, Emily. It sounds like a great book! Adding it to the list :)


Aviva Vaughn Love your review. Adding it!


David Reading now - read this review and needed to buy immediately. It’s brilliant!


Kevin Hozak Emily, thanks for this wonderful review. I bought and read the book based on this. As good as you said it is. Thanks. Always eager to see your recommendations.


Debbie I got this from the library today. So excited to read it. I'm only 60 pages in and loving it.


Aviva Vaughn Read this after seeing your review! Loved it. Thanks for the recommend.


Heather Great review! I just finished the book and had such a hard time putting my thoughts into words. Perhaps because I’m still feeling pretty raw from the intensity of this book. I should just steer people to this. I agree with you - an excellent book, but worthy of the content warning.


Beverly K I love it and I totally agree with you.


message 37: by Norman (new) - added it

Norman Great review...this is now a must read


Chrystal I loved this book, but wish that I would have know it was going to be a part of a potential series. The book ends with lots of loose ends untied. I usually like to read a book series after all of the pieces are already complete :( Now, I have no clue when the next one will come out and my head will already be in a million different books before I can finish the story.


Chrystal This is why I refused to read the second book from Patrick Rothfuss until he finishes the 3rd!


message 40: by Türkan (new) - added it

Türkan Wow so ready to buy this book only based on your review! Thanks!


Kashiraja Barbagallo it didn't bother you in the least that Ninkan (China) has gradations from good to bad, while Mugen (Japan) is 100% evil? Sure Kitay throws in a token "there were millions of innocents on Mugen" but how is the reader supposed to believe that. I didn't re-read it but I can't remember a single instance of a good Mugen. And about the hard work vs unique specialness, you're partly right, but Runin is inherently special as the average person does not have that amount of memory. But it's true she leverages that, and her intelligence, to do well through hard work.


Vijay Anand I completely agree with every word you wrote. You’ve put it far more elegantly than I ever would have managed.


message 43: by Nazeer (new)

Nazeer Najm That's a very beautiful review, feEl it us a must to read.


message 44: by Eleanor (new) - added it

Eleanor This review is what clinched me in adding it to my TBR list. Can't wait to read it!


"Sam" Cyndi-Marie Murphy Holy hell, what did I just read! Exactly!


chris joy Ohmygawdddd you put all my feels into wordsss


message 47: by Mansa (new)

Mansa Mohanty Great Review. Really excited for this book.


back to top