A Short Review of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Up until recently, the Red Rising Saga by Pierce Brown remained the most brutal series I had ever read. Now though, I would say that The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang has topped it to a certain extent. Starting out as an ordinary fantasy book with an 'academy' trope I always like so much, this book has got me fooled. Following the story of a war orphan called Fang Runin (also known as Rin), The Poppy War is a book full of brutality, vengeance, and mythology.

Rin lives poorly in Tikany, a township located in the Rooster Province, with her foster family who smuggles opium for a living. Knowing that they plan to marry her off to an immoral rich old man, Rin determines to ace the Keju, a test held by the Emperor to find the cleverest younglings across the whole Nikan. After two years of hard work, Rin is finally amongst the chosen ones in the most elite military school named Sinegard.

But being the only dark-skinned peasant girl from the Rooster Province proves to be something of a hardship there. Rin is targeted not only by her classmates but also the teacher until one day she discovers that she possesses an unusual ability, something known as shamanism. When the third Poppy War is about to explode, Rin realizes that her shamanic ability is probably the only thing that can save the whole empire, but Phoenix, the god that has chosen her, may not spare her life after that.

Let me start the review with a fun fact: this book is divided into three parts and is actually inspired by the history of China in the 20th century. For me, it started to become very obvious from the second part that The Poppy War is an adult fantasy book with a touch of history and mythology combined. The world-building was fresh and intricate while the war was nothing but brutal that it instantly gave me the whole Game-of-Thrones kind of vibes.

Rin was definitely a tough character, and I found it easy to like her despite her anger management issue. Following a five-hundred-pages story from her point of view, The Poppy War took me on a journey full of surprises. And it was not one that made you swoon or warm inside, I assure you. Rin's adventure was something brutal and explicit with a lot of triggering events. But the plot, I admit, was thoroughly impressive.

I couldn't decide which awed me the most: the mesmerizing details of Pantheona construction of mythology and fantasy mixedor the way Kuang weaved the story of each character brilliantly. And the narrative was neatly written too. Kuang managed to describe every occasion accurately that I could always feel the tension and the nerve. That being said, the thought of picking up the second installment excites and worries me at the same time. I have this feeling that it reeks of something even more twisted.

Honestly, it's hard to get into details without spoiling anything, so I have to underline the fact that this review doesn't do the book justice. While The Poppy War wouldn't be the book I pick up for a comfort read in the future, it certainly is a book you should give a try at least once in a lifetime. It's a book everyone talks highly about and you agree not because it's easily a favorite but rather because it's genius.

Now, please skip this part if you haven't read this book yet, what's the point of the Emperor killing Tyr? I've had some presumptions in mind already, so in case anyone is interested in discussing this particular event, feel free to hit me up.

Actual rating: 4.3