Series Review: The Poppy War, by R. F. Kuang (Mild Spoilers)

Title: The Poppy War trilogy

Author: R. F. Kuang

Genre: Fantasy

Published: 2018, 2019, 2020

Pages: 544, 658, 640

My Rating: 4, 5, 4.5

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

Hello Everyone,

welcome to my spoilery review of The Poppy War trilogy by R. F. Kuang.

If you’ve read any of these books, you know they’re not easy reads. R. F. Kuang pushes the reader out of their comfort zone as much as possible with her raw honesty and brutal yet realistic depiction of event. The honesty of this book is what I appreciated most throughout my experience of reading it.

I will jump right in. These books are brutal. And everyone should read them. I haven’t read war being depicted so truthfully in a book before. Because R. F. Kuang is a scholar, her knowledge of Chinese military history is very detailed. She uses read historical events (see the Nankin Massacre) to plot her novels. Some of the sub themes are: PTSD, self harming, famine as a consequence of war, imperialism and its effect on people, human experimentation, rape as a war weapon, power and its meaning, utilitarianism within war conflict.

It is needless to say that there are no heroes in this story. Everyone, and I mean everyone, does horrible things. They’re all murderers, and the morality in these books is very grey. This is also what makes these books hard to read, but very compelling nonetheless. Rin is flawed, cruel, and lost. The great suffering she has endured and has inflicted, will haunt her until the end. What I found most fascinating about her character was her tendency of alienation when it came to following orders. First with Altan and then with the Dragon Lord, she erased her own identity and blindly followed these individuals that inflicted abuse upon abuse on her. The most heartbreaking moment in the trilogy for me was the end, when we realize that Rin had shifted from oppressed to oppressor, and had inflicted that same pain upon Kitay. So tragic.

Another facet of this book that was very fascinating to me was the invasion of the Hesperians, and the discussion that prompted around Imperialism. The way Kuang wove in those threads was so well done, and managed to question the idea that religion must be imposed upon people. For this, my favourite scene must be the showdown between Rin and Sister Petra. I punched the air when I read it.

I have hear of some people who did not appreciate the ending of this book. However, I truly cannot see how else this book could have ended. To me, it was perfect. Tragic, but perfect. I think it just made so much sense, and was in line with Rin’s character.

Overall I would recommend this series to everyone. However, be warned that there are trigger warnings for everything. It is harsh, hard to read, and very, very graphic.

Have you read it?

Until next time,


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