The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang


The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (2018)

Themes // Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Warfare, Adult

Pages // 528


Spoiler Free

The stages of me hearing about this book went from it being dotted about Bookstagram and me thinking it was a World War Historical Fiction, to me seeing it in Waterstones but it was ripped and battered, I then realised it was not what I thought. Then I saw it again at YALC and hardbacks were two for £12 so of course I had to get it! I stared it as soon as we got back to the hotel and since then I’ve not been able to put it down. This is a beast of a book, but it is a beautiful one and the story is incredibly rich and well written.

Clearly derived from Chinese myths and culture, this book follows Rin as she tries to work her way to becoming something more than just a wife to an important man. She wants to train to be some sort of warrior as a very prestigious military school. I liked that there were clear time divisions in this story line, it is set partially at school as Rin undertakes her studies, but then the book leads into different directions as we see years passing in a matter of pages. I liked this method of storytelling, it meant the plot was always action packed and fast paced, I was never board.

You get such clear character development in this book, you see characters go from being no one to being someone very important. It is realistic in the way that we change as we grow up, we mature, we realise what really matters and what is petty, we become ourselves. That is what happens to Rin in this book, we see her go from a young girl who is unsure of the world and where she is going, to someone who yes is still very confused, but has more of a path ahead of her. Other characters go through these changes too, but I don’t want to spoil it for you! Let’s say that I felt more engaged with the book because of how realistic the character developments were.

This is not a book for those who dislike violence, several battles take place on these pages. Personally I think they are written very well. I think a good battle scene can really engage the reader and is a guarantee that the book will not leave their hands. I felt this was the case with A Court of Wings and Ruin and since that book I haven’t found a good enough war/battle scene to challenge it, until I read The Poppy War. As the name suggests, this book is set in a time of war and destruction, the reader gets up and close with this and the various after effects of such a time. Kuang writes this exceptionally well, which makes sense as she studied Chinese military strategy, collective trauma, and war memorials at university. If you have time to then I would highly recommend looking at the author’s blog , she writes about her inspiration behind the brutality of this book and her processes of writing it.

This author has an incredible insight into the topic she is writing about, her knowledge is so vast and you can see that reflected in this story. As I’ve listed below, this book deals with several issues, things that Kuang herself (I hope) has not experienced first hand. But from her writing and the descriptions you wouldn’t know, there is such vivid imagery that I was entirely captured by the story and pulled into its pages. The scenes that focused heavily on drugs and getting high were very well done, drugs are not something I have ever experience, but the way Kuang wrote it was as I’d expect the experience to be, a world that doesn’t make sense, somewhere that is all over the place with no order. I found these parts very interesting to read about, writing them must have been a challenge, to try and make sense of a moment that has no order, Kuang succeeds undoubtedly.

On Kuang’s blog she lists some of the issues dealt with in this book and issues a warning that if you cannot deal with these points, do not read this book. I’ll copy her list down below as I think this is not a book to go into lightly, but it does deal with these issues incredibly well:

  • Self-harm

  • Suicide

  • Violent rape

  • Sexual assault

  • Murder

  • Massacres

  • Brutalization

  • Mutilation

  • Torture

  • Substance abuse

  • Abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Physical abuse

  • Relationship abuse

  • Human experimentation

  • Chemical warfare

  • Genocide

For me, this book has been an eye opening experience into a world I new virtually nothing about. Whilst fictionalised and a fantasy, this book is still based of off true events, which makes it all the more real and hard-hitting. From page 1 to page 528 this book gripped me, I cannot wait for more in this series.

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