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Publisher's Summary

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s 20th century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

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.

R.F. Kuang studies modern Chinese history. She has a BA from Georgetown University and is currently a graduate student in the United Kingdom on a Marshall Scholarship. The Poppy War is her debut novel.

©2018 Rebecca Kuang (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Opium, War Crimes & Magic!

The Poppy War by R.F Kuang is a book with many faces.

We begin our journey with Rin, a war orphan fostered by a pair of illegal opium traders. The first third of the book deals with her journey to the capital city where she attempts to gain entrance into a military academy and trains there. This part, while never light, feels a lot like Ender's Game or Red Rising. Rin struggles to make friends, learn strategy, and outwit the bullies who are upset that a peasant has risen so high. It's brutal, but fun.

The fun stops around act two.

It happened gradually enough that I didn't realize how dark the book was until we reached the end of it. Dark revelation after dark revelation unfolds, not just about the world around the characters, but about their internal lives and vices. It doesn't surprise me that this book was written by someone who studies "collective trauma". By the time I'd reached the last page, I felt if I understood the emotional cost of war in a way I hadn't before.

This is an author with something to say about war, power, and addiction, and she says it so beautifully. As much as I love books like Red Rising or even Ender's Game, I feel since they aren't as strongly rooted in one countries history they lack the intimacy and raw rage I found in the Poppy War. Despite being a book about a whole country, every sentence, every plot moment felt personal. It helps that the prose is excellent. I can't wait to read the next book.

Side note: I also really enjoyed the magic system, which is based around the use of drugs. I found the role Opium played in the world fascinating. Some of the most heart-breaking moments of the book dealt with addiction.

Performance notes:

I really loved the performer of the audiobook. She did a great job, with the exception a the fighting masters voice which really did sound like someone strangling Kermit the frog. Otherwise, though she killed it!

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Starts strong

Good characters, fantastic setting, and nice writing. When it strays into the horrors of war, it becomes hard to take. But that pales in comparison to the fact that the central motivation of one of the characters-- the point that the whole plot turns on -- is left to a future book to resolve. I felt very unsatisfied in the end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Creedy
  • Washington, DC
  • 06-21-18

Can't Wait For Book 2

I have read very little fantasy fiction but you have inspired a new reader of this genre. I really enjoyed the richness of your style and never felt their was filler... everything had meaning!

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but falls short of my expectation...

First off, let me say that this is by no means a bad book. In fact, there were elements I thought were very good. My issue is that the main character Ren fluctuates from a crying, scared and confused peasant girl, into a confident soldier and then into a self doubting, bruised little girl over and over and over again. Her voice does not grow, it feels like she’s just a hot mess. If the author was trying to create a complex character, I feel that gets lost and all that comes through is a spiteful, annoying and self loathing child woman. That being said, the supporting characters are well designed and the overall story held my interest. A decent effort but not boom I would re read when looking for an “old friend.”

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Wonderful debut! Congratulations!

Very nice debut novel. the sequel will be very interesting. good character history, but could use more history about the twins. looking forward to the next book.

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very intriguing

started I little slow be then it drew me in and left me wanting more

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    2 out of 5 stars
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terrible people

the characters in this book are on par with Hitler they are horrible people and I simply can't like them

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

disappointed

not a strong female character. she started out that way but turned into a ignorant child by the end who cared nothing about others

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Engaging, Gruesome, but sometimes misses the mark.

R.F Kuang did her audience a service by bringing such a cool, fun, and foreign setting to us. I was thoroughly engaged throughout the three acts of this novel. It hits some of the more popular, albeit overused, tropes of contemporary fantasy like studying in a school or joining an army. Frankly, if you enjoyed Name of the Wind you will love the first half of this book.

This book definitely falls in the category of grimdark. Kuang struggles with tone throughout the novel. I think sometimes she forces a darker tone instead of letting the tone bring itself out. For example, in the first five minutes of the novel, a student asks if they can go to the bathroom during the exam, but asks “what if we have to shit?” Instances like that serve to disrupt immersion in a novel that rather engaging. This book gets very dark in the latter half. There is one chapter will be singed in my memory for a long time, comparable to the Siege of Capustan or Y’Gatan in Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Reasons to read: tropey in all the right ways, Awesome and remarkable setting, and emotional impactful.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Bright Star Burns Quick

I heard about this book through a Reddit post a few months ago, and to my delight it was available when a recent cross country drive came up. I fell into the world immediately. From the get go, Rin’s drive and ambition had me following along. For every one of her achievements, the stakes grew. From street to to school, to war and all its atrocities, Rin’s experience is certainly a harrowing one.

Now, I applaud miss Kuang’s debut. The world vivid and pulses with a real brutality. She paints action scenes so fluidly, and her sensory input is fantastic. The first two parts were unrelentingly gripping.

As the book continued, there came a shift from Rin’s internal struggle from more of what she did to more of what she thought. The philosophical quandaries began to dominate the pages, and the pace of the story started to trudge. Not to say that I don’t like understanding a characters thoughts, but it felt like they began to loop in redundancy. I think a large part of that is due to Rin’s obsession with Altan, and who through and through felt like the weakest character. Anything focused on him and his rage or hatred just slogged. And the heavy focus on him towards the end of the book really arrested the momentum going into the war.

All in all, I really enjoyed most of the book. The blips that irked me were not enough to keep me from finishing it. I appreciate the fact that miss Kuang pulled zero punches with her historical references, and I look forward to future books.

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  • peastri
  • 05-11-18

Almost perfect

This will be a very popular book. It should be a very popular book and up there with the best YA has to offer. I would have given it a 4.5 if audible allowed it.


A couple of loves: Rin is a great, driven character that puts it upon herself to get where she wants to be. Perhaps my favourite part of her character is that she takes the time to educate herself rather than just run into things blindly particularly early on. Her curiosity draws you in and rather than being info dumped on you're learning with her.


The story does a great job of immersing you into the Chinese inspired mythology, fantasy and history. I'll admit to being quite dense on the subjects but I enjoyed them immensely and am keen to learn more.


The magic is awesome, just awesome. I don't generally enjoy magic as a main theme but this is just too cool.


A couple of gripes: There were a few parts at the beginning that had me thinking ‘hey that's a cool and different direction’ but they weren’t really pursued which I found a little disappointing and made the direction of the story a bit predictable.


I would have liked to have endured a bit more of Rin’s oppression early on rather than being told things like because her skin’s a little darker people don't like her as much. The potential marriage wasn't enough I would have liked to have seen that followed through to see how she handled it, escaped it. It all seemed a bit easy for her.


Finally the few YA standards that crept into the tale early on that made me cringe because they are used all the time and add little to nothing to the overall story such as kids swearing I can only assume to sound cool, the female lead that thinks she's not up to scratch in the looks department… a war training academy.


Those are really pretty minor gripes in the greater scheme of things as once I got to part two I found those things fell by the wayside.


Cover: Not a huge fan, feels a bit underwhelming when there's so much magic to work with in this story. I would have loved to see what someone like Jason Chan could have done with it (drooling at the thought). Although a Chan cover might be wasted as I suspect it will have a cheesy movie tie-in cover in the near future.


For the audio fans: I was worried with the direction they would go here but they got it right with Emily Woo Zeller. The only problem I ran into was that some of the younger male characters started sounding the same the deeper into the book I got but otherwise overall a good experience.


In short: I liked it but in spite of its late attempts to grab me I didn't love it. My advice would be to read it, I think you'll enjoy it, it's a very entertaining read and a great debut.