Review: The Poppy War (#1) by R.F. Kuang

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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.

You know there are some books that just grip you from the start and you have a feeling that they just may turn out to be a 5 star read? This one was one of those books, but I’m very sad to say it didn’t quite live up to expectations as we went through the story.

This book starts with Rin studying to pass the Keju exam which will allow her to travel north to Sinegard, a military academy and escape a marriage that has been set up by her parents. I loved these chapters so much and I was so optimistic with the start of this book. I listened to this one on audiobook, and I feel like there are some audiobooks you have to focus on throughout the entire story, and some that capture your attention so suddenly that you can’t help but be entranced. This was one of those books.

I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible. 

However, what I thought might last for the entire book ended quite soon into the story, and around 150-200 pages in, we are thrown from Sinegard Academy and into a war zone. Although this was more what I expected from this series before starting it, I was enjoying the academy setting so much that I did find it quite disappointing to go to the complicated, confusing and pressure-filled environment of a war. Although the rest of the book was still enjoyable, it in no way blew me away like the first 150 pages did, dropping my rating from 5 stars to 4.

There was still so much I loved about this book, however. I really liked how a lot of the topics were handled, from marriage to birth control and children, racism and classism to self harm. Please beware if you are going into this book there are a lot of trigger warnings and heavy topics that I will mention at the end of this review, and some of these were disturbing to read about. But for the most part, I thought a lot of the difficult topics were handled quite well.

Was she now a goddess or a monster? Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.

Overall, this didn’t end up being a 5 star read for me, but I did still really enjoy it and I’m intrigued to see where the story goes in the next two books!

TW: sexual assault, self harm, violence, murder, genocide, gore, rape, animal cruelty, human experimentation, torture, mutilation

4 out of 5 stars


May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽

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