The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
The Poppy War – Book 1
Read May 2 – June 1, 2019
The Poppy War had a reputation that preceded it.
I had heard more than once before going into this book that it was going to be brutal, graphic, and full of triggering themes. And it was. But honestly, I feel like it wasn’t nearly as intense as I had been expecting. There were definitely difficult situations in the book, and there were descriptions that kinda curdled my stomach, but I feel like I was lead to believe that there would be more than there was, considering the events the book is based off of.
Alternatively, I could just be so desensitized to today’s society and world events that I read all the awful stuff and went, ‘huh’. Either way, I’m not saying this as a good thing or a bad thing about the book, but to me at least, the warnings of graphic content were a bit overblown. It’s definitely there, but it’s more sprinkled than I expected. So take that as you will.
Okay so, this book.
This book follows Rin, a war orphan who takes an exam to enter a prestigious military academy in a country at the brink of war. The book itself is inspired by the events of The Rape of Nanjing, which happened during the second Sino-Japanese War that occurred 1937-1945, where Japanese troops invaded the Chinese capital of Nanjing and mass murdered and raped the citizens there. The plot of this book follows those events closely – you can see how each culture was mirrored into the fictional cultures making up the different nations in the story.
The book itself is well written – the descriptions of military tactics and troop movements and strategy are well thought out and easy to imagine as you read. The main character Rin is multi-faceted, which I was really happy to see. Her morals are all over the place, and there was no clear ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There was just war and necessity. It felt realistic, her actions, her thoughts, and her reactions, considering her age, how she was raised, trained, and how she interprets the world.
The side characters also have multiple layers to them. The brave commander that has no concept of how to lose and cannot process it, the cocky classmate that mentally adjusts when faced with actual warfare, the oddball teacher with eccentric tendencies and whose bravery or lack thereof could be interpreted many ways. It was really cool, seeing all these characters introduced and developed within the first book alone.
The magic system itself is also pretty awesome, and it was really cool that depending on the person’s perspective, that it could be used in different ways. Some characters used the magic by force, and others let it flow through them. The differences caused an interesting conflict in points of the story, and it was really fascinating to read, almost like two different flavors of the same religion battling with each other.
I think the only thing that kept me from loving it was that I couldn’t read it for long periods of time. And that might be an unfair judgement, but I did find myself only being able to pick it up for a chapter or a few pages at a time. I don’t know what it was about it that caused it, but there you go.
Overall though, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m excitedly awaiting book two, which should be out this summer.