The Poppy War
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.
Reviewed on 19th December 2020
R F Kuang’s novels have appeared with increasing regularity on my social media feeds this year since she was awarded the Astounding Award at this year’s WorldCon, and so it seemed inevitable that I would buy and read the first novel in her trilogy.
The Poppy War tells the story of Rin, an orphan growing up in an abusive household, who decides that she can escape via education, and strives to achieve entry to the most prestigious military school in the country.
The setting has very clear parallels to China and events there in the last century, and I’ve been inspired to read more about the history of this part of the world as a result.
The novel is a fantasy novel, although fairly subtly so for some time, with the interesting setup that most people don’t seem to actually believe in the fantastical. This led to a mix of fun and frustration, as learning about the lore and magic systems is something I enjoy.
My one struggle in reading this was with the passage of time. I’m not sure whether this is because of the rate / chunkiness of my reading pattern, but I felt like I had to consciously remind myself that the book wasn’t happening day by day but that in some places weeks or even years were passing.
Overall though a really enjoyable novel with an engaging lead character, and I’m really keen to pick up the two subsequent novels and find out what happens next.