Book Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Paperback edition of The Poppy War and The Poppy War bookmark (from Fairyloot)

Genre: Books that hurt so bad. Fantasy | Historical Fantasy | Grimdark

Published date: 3rd May 2018 | Publisher: HarperVoyager

Author’s website:


When Rin aced the Keju – the test to find the most talented students in the Empire – 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 had hoped to get rich by marrying her off; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free from a life of servitude. 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. Fighting the prejudice of rival classmates, Rin discovers that 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 psychoactive substances and a seemingly insane teacher, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive – and that mastering these 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 Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most people calmly go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away…


Another book bites the dust from my 2022 TBR!

And what a book it was. Full disclosure, this took me three attempts to read. I had started it before I got COVID this year, and my brain just couldn’t focus. On the final attempt – I sailed through it.

It’s safe to say this is a book that’s going to stick with me for a while.

Please read the content warnings: The Poppy War Trigger Warnings (

This book is inspired by some horrific parts of Chinese history. I won’t pretend I knew any of this until I started reading TPW. I looked up certain events that unfold and the horror of the reality made this book much darker than I could ever have imagined.

The story unfolds in Three parts.

Part one: almost felt like the generic under dog ‘chosen one’ trope you often find in YA. I’m a huge fan of this trope and unlike YA books there is very little hope in TPW. Everything is coated with a deep foreboding and it’s hard to shake. This part is full of manipulations of teenagers, who, seek the praise from their peers and masters for war strategies, death and violence. Rin has to fight quite literally for her place amongst the very people she may have to rely on in the war to come. Rin doesn’t seem to fit in and is made to feel like an outcast. She makes life changing decisions so that she can become the best of the best – but at a cost. I found the introduction to the Gods and the Pantheon absolutely fascinating.

Part two: the inevitable war has arrived, unlikely alliances and betrayal are rife throughout. The character development for a few characters had so many layers, I’m still marvelling at the foreshadowing and watching it unravel. Rin, however, seems to revert to a childish fool and I can only hope that this is all part of her journey.

Part three: Destroyed me. I don’t think the scenes I read will leave me for a while. Whilst reading this I learned that this part was based on The Nanjing Massacre and I cannot even begin to fathom the depravity of anyone who can inflict that kind of suffering.

It’s easy to be brave. Harder to know when not to fight.

Jiang – The Poppy War

Kuang wrote these scenes and with each type of her keyboard she crushed any shred of hope I had for Rin and the Cike. It was painful to read. The gut wrenching horror of war portrayed on these pages, was hard to look away from and I just can’t get this part of the book out of my head.

I’ve been wondering if the horror of knowing those scenes were inspired by real events, were the reason I was so emotional – or, if the writing was the reason. I’ve decided it’s both. Kuang draws from those harrowing moments and doesn’t shy away from the brutality of it all.

This book is without a doubt one of the most fascinating, emotive and brutal books I’ve ever read. To think that this is a debut novel is astounding.

I will be continuing this series and I know the worst is yet to come… and yet, I also know this is most likely going to be one of my favourite book series’. I’m scared about what’s to come, but, I’m excited at finding an author that makes me feel this way!!

What’s the last book you couldn’t stop thinking about?

Published by hklovesbooks

A book loving coffee addict!

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