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Publisher's Summary

A powerful epic fantasy novel with roots in the 20th-century history of China.

Opium runs through the heart of the Nikara Empire, a constant reminder of the war with the Federation of Mugen that brought it to the empire’s shores. A war that ended only thanks to three heroes - the Vipress, the Dragon Emperor and the Gatekeeper - known as the Trifecta. They were legendary figures, each bestowed with godlike powers, who united the warlords of the Empire against the Federation.

Decades have passed. The Trifecta is shattered; the Dragon Emperor is dead, the Gatekeeper is missing and the Vipress alone sits on the throne at Sinegard. Peace reigns, yet the poppy remains.

War orphan Fang Runin grew up with it. Her adopted family smuggles it throughout the Rooster province, making a living on the misfortune of those addicted to its smoke. But when Rin’s parents force her into an arranged marriage, Rin refuses to accept her fate and fights her way to the prestigious military academy at Sinegard.

There she will learn of drug-fuelled shamanic powers thought to be myth, powers which might defeat the Federation during its third invasion. But the cost of some power is too great to pay, even if it means winning a war that threatens to destroy an entire nation.

©2018 R. F. Kuang (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"A blistering, powerful epic of war and revenge that will captivate you to the bitter end." (Kameron Hurley, author of The Stars Are Legion)

"A thrilling, action-packed fantasy of gods and mythology...The ambitious heroine’s rise from poverty to ruthless military commander makes for a gripping read, and I eagerly await the next installment." (Julie C. Dao, author of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

 "In The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang draws on history and myth to tell a relentlessly unforgiving story of war, vengeance, power and madness, with larger-than-life characters that evoke sympathy and rouse terror. Brace yourself." (Fonda Lee, award-winning author of The Green Bone Saga)

What members say

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Something is Missing

The story began very well with much potential but the immaturity, selfishness and short-sightedness of the protagonist made the story at times rather weary. Her amazing memory and exposure to great teachers only shows that vast amount of knowledge and horrific life changing experience does not guarantee an ability to be far-sighted and wise. Towards the end, I was rooting for someone else.

I will have to hope that the second book will bring about a more mature and reflective heroine. Keeping fingers cross

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  • Luce Briggi
  • 09-04-18

A bloody and intense storyline

This novel is incredibly engaging. I found myself desperate to read it as often as I could, because I was involved by the story Kuang has so vividly rendered.
The storyline might seem a bit predictable at first - orphan goes to a special school, discovers 'uncanny' abilities, yadda yadda - but the way in which Kuang delivers this trope-y story made it seem anything but clichéd.

It might sound daft but one of the aspects that pulled me into this story is that Kuang made me believe in Rin and her tumultuous and often hostile world. The many physical and inner conflicts she faces made me deeply weary. I grew increasingly apprehensive. Kuang does not sugar coat the brutality of war and the inevitable horrors brought by such conflicts. Yet, Kuang’s prose could deliver such beautiful and elegant phrases that I could not find anything she wrote distasteful. Her style would often come across as simple but it is this apparent simplicity that makes Kuang’s words all the more effective. There is a raw almost visceral aspect to her writing that makes it hard not to be affected by what she writes of.
The Poppy War offers plenty of action, tense showdowns, constantly shifting power dynamics, and an arresting storyline....

As much as I loved this book there are a few things that I thought could have been “better” or that I hope can be more developed in the next instalments:

✔The way in which Kung depicts a moving body is simply captivating. I was in awe of her descriptions of combat. Even when during these fighting scenes the “eyes” seem to be a bit overdone (everyone seems to have very arresting eyes, especially those who fight well or are shamans).

✔Rin, this girl, this young woman, frustrated the hell out of me. She is a act first, think later, kind of person. Also, you know how some say that there is no such thing as a stupid question? Well, I disagree, because Rin asks a helluva of stupid questions. And the she is ‘stunned’ or suprised by the unfavourable reactions these often insubordinate questions illicit. She enragers her peers, and her superiors, with her words and her obtuseness. Yet, in spite of my not liking her or her attitude, I still cared for her. Especially since she seems to be treated like a piñata by most of the characters.
And yes, I do mean that she is treated as something that should be bashed about. Her mentors are not upfront enough, pushing her to make stupid decisions. Her friends...well, I don’t think that there is one healthy relationship or friendship in this book. The relationships she has verge on or are of an abusive (physical and non) nature. Given the world Rin lives in it’s hardly surprising that this should be the case….still
The path that she takes feels sadly unavoidable. It's refreshing to read about a female character who longs for power....but the damage caused by Rin's newfound thirst for revenge...well...mmmh...there is no coming back from that.

✖A lot of characters tell Rin the classic “you don’t know what I’ve been through” line. I mean, they are all living through a war, so I don’t think Rin should just let others bemoan their own tragedies, especially since before this new explosion of violence, Rin was already an outcast.

✖The few female characters that make an appearance are all very negative depictions of femininity. They are shrill and or unnecessary mean, especially towards - surprise surprise - Rin. They seemed very “flat”. They were either jealous or callous, treating Rin in a cold or aggressive manner. Hopefully new female characters in the following instalments will change this but…

✖I think the novel would have benefited from having a few more descriptions of the characters’ surroundings. I know it is an action focused novel but a more delineated landscape would have made Rin’s world all the more vivid.

Overall, I recommend this very much to both historical and fantasy fans. If you love the trope of the “tragic hero/ine” whose thirst for revenge and power bring about their own destruction...look no further. Rin is an Anakin Skywalker in the makings...

I know quite a lot of people are worried by the “trigger warnings” but this book is never gratuitously violent. The violence depicted is both brutal and necessary, and because of it, we can better understand Rin and those around her.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Evi
  • 06-05-18

Magnificent book!

My words. This was a magnificent read (audio). Fantastic storytelling and the layering of each character is superb. Definitely a YA fantasy book you need to read (listen).

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  • Elly
  • 08-03-18

Loved it

I loved this and couldn't stop listening. Would recommend looking into trigger warnings before purchasing.

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  • Aentee
  • 06-07-18

Immersive and brilliant historical fantasy

I absolutely loved this book, I alternated between reading the Kindle copy and the audiobook for my first read and it was a great experience. This is a historical fantasy based on China's complex modern history, particularly the Second Sino-Japanese war and the lead up to the Cultural Revolution. R. F. Kuang majored in International History, with a focus on modern Chinese military history, and it really shows in this book.

The Poppy War reaches the perfect balance between inspiration from historical facts and reinventing a world all its own. If you love anti-heroes and morally ambiguous characters, you will find Rin utterly fascinating. The audio performance by Emily Woo Zeller is also brilliant, I am a long-time fan of her narration and I think her voice is very emotive.

The book does get very dark, especially towards the last third. A lot of the events shown actually parallel real-life horrors, which made it all the more confronting. Content warning for genocide, rapes, murder, torture, human experimentation, self-harm, and a lot of violence. The content never felt gratuitous, but do take note that the last third of book is quite graphic before you read or listen to it.