The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Publisher: HarperVoyager UK
Publication Date:
Length: 531 pages

CW: sexual assault, graphic violence

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.



Since rejoining the book blogging community, it seemed like everyone on my timeline was talking about The Poppy War. I would see a review or excited tweets about it every day so, naturally, I was very intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. After reading the description of the novel I realised it was something I just had to get my hands on, and now, I am one of those people who will be raving about this book for a long time. 

I really loved all of the characters in this novel, they were all so complex and well developed that it was a joy to read about all of them, even if you didn’t like what the characters were doing. I thought Rin was an excellent protagonist and it was refreshing to see a protagonist in a novel like this, where they don’t necessarily make all of the right choices. Rin is a teenage girl turned soldier who is flawed but, at the same time, she is doing what she believes to be right. I also really liked Altan and his whole division. They were great characters to add into the mix and helped illustrate how diverse Nikara is. I thought the eccentric teacher Jiang was brilliant too and I was fascinated by him and would have loved to have seen more of him. 

I also really enjoyed the way the novel was paced, starting with Rin with her foster parents in Rooster Province, her life at the prestigious Sinegard military school and then ending in the war. Not only did this do a great job of helping the reader understand Rin and watch her develop, but it also was a great way to worldbuild in a showing not telling kind of way. The entire novel flowed really well and nothing felt out of place, everything that Rin goes through in the novel has a purpose and nothing felt like filler. Although this is the first novel in the series, it didn’t feel incomplete the way some first novels do. Whilst the ending makes it clear that you need to read the next novel, you get enough detail about the world and the characters to understand what is happening without hoping it will be covered in later installments. 

The novel is split into three parts and progressively gets darker as the novel continues. The third part was very difficult to read in parts as it details the graphic horrors (even though that word isn’t remotely strong enough to cover it) of this war. Whilst this novel is a fantasy novel, it is based on the very real events that happened in East Asian history, particularly the Second Sino-Japanese War. Knowing this before going into reading this book makes the entire story, but the third part especially, haunting and disturbing. 

I am incredibly thankful to the book blogging community for talking about this book so much as I hate to think about missing out on this novel altogether. Not only is Kuang a fantastic writer and has left me excited to read the next novels in this series (which I will be buying as soon as I have finished writing this), but this novel has also got me to educate myself on a part of history that I was completely ignorant to until I picked the book up. If you were like me and saw everyone talking about this novel and hadn’t started it, do yourself a favour and stop sleeping on it as it is brilliant and well worth a read. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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6 thoughts on “The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

  1. Great review! I want to read this so badly but several people have told me not to bc if specific content warnings I asked for. But one day, hopefully I can join all the cheering for this series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I hope you can too someday! Part three is definitely the most triggering but it’s also the shortest part, so depending on what other people have told you you could potentially read the first two parts and have someone give you the essential (non-triggering) information about the third part? I haven’t read the rest of the series yet so can’t speak for those but I’m sure I’ll get round to them very soon!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Is there any detailed sexual assault in the first two parts? Because that could work. I really do want to read it so badly!


      2. From what I can remember I’m pretty sure there isn’t, the only mention of sexual assault is in part three (starting chapter 21) which is graphic. If there is any mention in the first two parts it’s so brief and vague that I can’t remember it at all and we never see it take place (even in part three but the retelling is very triggering). You might want a second opinion in case I’m forgetting something, but I’m fairly confident that it is just in part three!

        Liked by 2 people

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