Title: The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)
Author: R. F. Kuang
“War was not a game, where one fought for honor and admiration, where masters would keep her from sustaining any real harm. War was a nightmare.”
We’re not even halfway through the year and yet again I am blown away by another debut. What a time to be alive. The Poppy War is a grimdark fantasy featuring a fierce heroine, addictive writing, and plenty of action. There are so many amazing elements about it that make it a totally engrossing read. This book is considered grimdark, and therefore I feel I need to mention that it contains graphic violence, graphic rape, mutilation, torture, mass murder, drug abuse, and many other things of that nature.
“Fear was impossible to eradicate. But so was the will to survive.”
R. F. Kuang’s writing was incredible: it was simple and yet completely addicting. The pacing was absolutely wonderful. The book is split into three parts, each growing darker as the story goes on. I was also very impressed by her ability to blend fantasy elements with history. The Poppy War is inspired by parts of Chinese history, such as the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Nanking Massacre, and it was very easy to see the allusions to those events throughout the book. In addition, there are many other components of the novel that make this such a gripping read: gods and goddesses, military school, shamanism, war strategy, and lots of fighting and action.
“I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible. Was she now a goddess or monster? Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.”
One of my favorites things about The Poppy War was the protagonist, Rin. She was such a well-developed heroine and her growth as a character was amazing to follow. I loved her intensity, her determination, her faults, her strengths. I also enjoyed her interactions with many of the side characters. In particular, I loved the easy friendship she forms with Kitay, the complicated relationship between her and Altan, and the rivals-to-friends (to hopefully lovers? Please??) relationship that develops with Nezha.
Just a small note. It takes a lot to rattle me, especially while reading. That being said, Chapter 21 was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to read. I had to pause a couple times before continuing, and at one point I even felt a little light-headed. Heed the content warnings, my friends. That was not easy chapter to read.
The Poppy War is an spectacular grimdark fantasy by debut author R. F. Kuang. The vivid storytelling, world-building, wonderful characters, and compelling plot all come together to create a riveting story. I can’t wait to read the next books in the series and I’m so excited to meet R. F. Kuang at BookCon!