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.
The Poppy War is set in Nikara and starts in Rooster Province where our protagonist, Rin, is doing everything she can to pass the Keju exam to escape from an arranged marriage. However, after managing to get accepted into the most prestigious military school, Sinegard, she quickly finds out that this escape isn’t as she expected. On top of navigating the difficulties of being a poor, dark-skinned, girl from the South she also has to deal with having an unusual, and dangerous, gift, all the while another Poppy War is threatening to break out.
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.