The Poppy War

The Poppy War

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...

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Title:The Poppy War
Author:R.F. Kuang
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Poppy War Reviews

  • Petrik

    No no, scratch that understatement. Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you a review for

    , a book that will go down as

    Once in a while, there comes a book that you just

    will be a fantastic book just from the premise or the cover; this was one of those books for me

    No no, scratch that understatement. Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you a review for

    , a book that will go down as

    Once in a while, there comes a book that you just

    will be a fantastic book just from the premise or the cover; this was one of those books for me. I’ve been eyeing this book ever since I stumbled upon the gorgeous attention-grabbing cover by Jung Shan. (Seriously, check out her artworks. They’re incredible.) Reading that the book is highly inspired by Second Sino-Japanese War also the Rape of Nanking—please look this up if you don't know about it so you’ll have an idea of how dark the book will get—sparked my interest even more. However, although I had a good feeling about this debut, I certainly didn’t expect it to be THIS incredible. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this is literally THE best grimdark/military fantasy debut I've ever read; even better than

    by Joe Abercrombie or

    by Michael R. Fletcher, and this author only turns 21 years old this year! How awesomely talented is she!?

    Before I begin my long review, I will clarify that I’m an Asian and my review for this book will be affected by my experience growing up as one. Then, I need you to consider these two questions:

    1. Do you enjoy or are you okay with reading books with a lot of violence? Because this book contains plenty of vividly brutal scenes. The author doesn’t pull any punches and the violence was handled splendidly, not only for the purpose of showing the horror and tragedy of war but also to let these scenes become a huge part of characters’ developments.

    2. If the answer to question one is an absolute yes, I’ll ask you this: "are you ready for this book to go into your favorites of all time shelf?" because there’s an incredibly high chance that it WILL happen.

    is a debut by R.F. Kuang and it's a coming-of-age grimdark military fantasy. It's a book about empires, drugs, shamanism, and gods, and it's highly inspired by Second Sino-Japanese War, which is one of the darkest and bloodiest periods in Chinese history. I grew up learning about this war and it gave me great satisfaction to read an epic fantasy book inspired by it; one that was written exceptionally well, too. Considering the root of inspiration for the book, it's obvious that there will be a lot of allusions to China and Japan (I’ll get into them more later) and that this will be a violent book. This is not a YA book; there are a lot of scenes that are definitely only appropriate for adults to read and there are tons of content warnings (I’ll list them at the end of my review) in part III. This is also not a happy-go-lucky story to read. Also, this is literally the first time I’ve read a fantasy book written by a female author that doesn’t feature ANY romance in it. (Thank God!)

    As a Chinese myself, I have my own reasons for believing that

    is an Asian inspired coming-of-age grimdark military fantasy done absolutely right with finesse. Part I (roughly 40%) of the book may lead you to think this will be strictly an epic/high fantasy with a complete focus on learning, but this isn’t really true. Yes, the story does start with our main character, Fang Runin (Rin), learning tons of skills and forming friendships in a military academy called Sinegard. However, the storyline immediately took a different approach and became a complete grimdark/military fantasy in Part II and III. This won’t be a situation like Kvothe from

    by Patrick Rothfuss where after two installments he’s still in the University (I love this series so much though). Story structure wise, this book actually reminds me a lot of

    by Anthony Ryan (another of my favorite debuts of all time), where the first half revolves around the character in a battle school and the second half revolves more around war and battles. This book alone feels like a trilogy in itself due to the sheer amount of monumental events that take place. Kuang did what a lot of authors try to do in the scope of a trilogy within the span of ONE book. Kuang’s prose was easy to read, simple, and most importantly, VERY engaging. Her writing never gets in the way of her story and it was truly compelling to read.

    I need to give another reminder that part III in particular was filled with brutal scenes. These scenes are written exceptionally well; the author clearly shows the horrors of war and please do remember, like I said before, these scenes aren’t just there for the sake of making the book darker. The scenes are all there for the purpose of the story, characters development, and world building. In fact, this book just wouldn’t hold the same powerful impact without these scenes. The pacing was also brilliant. There wasn’t any chapter that bored me, none whatsoever. This is truly a story with a fine balance of heart, emotion, brutality, and action scenes that were only possible because of how magnificently written the author wrote all the characters, action sequences, and world-building.

    Rin has seriously become one of the best female heroines I’ve ever had the chance to encounter. She’s a highly well-developed character, multi-faceted and simply kickass. Her rise from a mere peasant, oppressed and hated by everyone because of the color of her dark skin and her low status, to becoming what she has to be as the story progressed. This was one of the most well-written developments of a heroine or any character I’ve ever read. She makes brutally tough choices, she rises to any challenge that comes her way, and she never gives up. She’s fierce, she’s badass, and she demonstrates that being a strong woman character doesn’t only mean being physically powerful but mentally powerful, as well. Even though we see the story unfolds solely from Rin’s perspective in third person narration, the author does a fantastic job in making sure we’re really inside Rin’s head at all times. At one point, I actually forgot that I was reading the book in third person point of view as Rin’s character and personality were so well explored that I felt like her story was being told in first person POV. Besides that, all the other supporting characters' personalities were so well fleshed out because Part I was used VERY effectively to establish the characters’ introductions and world-building, making rooms for developments in the second half despite the story being in the middle of all the chaos. There’s always something new to discover on every page, and no words are wasted.

    No military fantasy will ever reach greatness without intricate war tactics or extraordinary action scenes, and this book simply scored wonderfully on both counts. Every action sequence, whether it’s the martial arts battle or the magic system, was vividly written. The scale and scope of the action relentlessly escalate with each page turned. The magic users in this book are called Shaman—those who commune with the Gods to use their power—and Kuang did a terrific job researching Shamanism. Coincidentally, during my time reading this book, I received an email from one of my favorite artists, Noah Bradley, on his new art piece for

    and somehow, it completely fits some of the action scenes in this book. Check out this picture below to give you an idea of how wildly the action scenes escalated.

    Lastly, I want to talk about the world-building. The history in the world of this book is filled with constant warfare, and this is also where the Asian influences really prevailed. There are TONS of Chinese and Asian influences in this book; I’m going to mention only a few of them here so you can experience the rest on your own:

    -The provinces in this book are named after the twelve Chinese Zodiacs.

    -The four cardinal mythological Gods are named exactly after the same Four Symbols of Chinese constellations creatures: the White Tiger of the West (Byakko), the Black Tortoise of the North (Genbu), the Azure Dragon of the East (Seiryu), and the Vermilion Bird of the South (Suzaku).

    -The creator of the military tactics book named Principles of War in the story is called Sunzi, obviously named after the famous Sun Tzu and his

    -I’m a Buddhist (I think this is the first time I mention my religion in a review) and I’m pretty sure that Kuang used the name Bodhidharma intentionally to harken to Buddhism. In Buddhism, Bodhi means enlightenment and dharma means cosmic law. Considering the nature of Shamanism in this book, this naming and its meaning is very appropriate.

    -Ki derives from Qi/Chi which means life force.

    -Federation of Mugen, the name of the group of antagonists in this book, in Japanese means Infinite/Fantasy/Dream and they resembled the Japanese code of war where they are simply tools for the Emperor to use.

    -Just one look at the map and you’ll also know that the world is based on China and Japan.

    -Then there’s also talk of the legend of Monkey King from

    Believe me, I’m holding myself back here; I’m pretty sure I found almost all the Asian influences in this book and I could talk about them in detail but I want you to experience them for yourself too. I spent four hours writing this review and it has been long enough already. In fact, this is actually my second longest review of all time. I really wish I could talk about how amazing this book is but I have to make sure my review is spoiler-free enough for readers to experience this debut with maximum results. You simply have to read and experience this greatness for yourself.

    is an astounding debut and one of the greatest starts to a series I’ve ever read. It’s a shining treasure of fantasy, literature, history, and culture. R.F. Kuang is truly a new author to watch. If this doesn’t become a one-hit wonder and she continues writing as her career, I have absolutely no doubt that her name will be up there with the likes of Robin Hobb and N.K. Jemisin, and maybe even better. I’m already waiting for the second book eagerly. I don’t even know how Kuang will top this debut; it’s a magnificently written debut that will stay in the heart of readers. By this point in my reviewing career, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to my followers that I’m quite stingy with giving a full five-star rating, but this book simply deserves a full five stars.

    is a book truly worth every second of your time. It’s a profound blending of history into military fantasy. It’s a relentlessly tension-packed book. Rin will capture your heart, embrace it. The Poppy will make you high, accept it. The War will break you, face it.

    will most likely be included in your favorite books of all-time list, get it. Come May, buy and read this superlative page turner immediately.

  • R.F. Kuang

    Hi, there!

    THE POPPY WAR is my book, so I'm obviously a bit biased. I wrote it over three months during the winter of 2015, signed with an agent in February 2016, and sold the book to Harper Voyager during my birthday weekend in May 2016. It's been nearly two years since then, so I'm terribly excited for it to finally go out in the world!

    I'm going to use this space to tell you a little about THE POPPY WAR in case you're wondering whether you might enjoy reading it. This book is not a romance sto

    Hi, there!

    THE POPPY WAR is my book, so I'm obviously a bit biased. I wrote it over three months during the winter of 2015, signed with an agent in February 2016, and sold the book to Harper Voyager during my birthday weekend in May 2016. It's been nearly two years since then, so I'm terribly excited for it to finally go out in the world!

    I'm going to use this space to tell you a little about THE POPPY WAR in case you're wondering whether you might enjoy reading it. This book is not a romance story. This is not a YA fantasy school story (sorry. I love those too.) Yes, there's a school, and we learn some things at the school, but please don't let that description deceive you as we leave that setting quite quickly.

    This is, as I've always conceived it, a war story. It draws heavily on the Second Sino-Japanese war which–if you know anything about Asia–was one of the darkest and bloodiest moments in Chinese history. It grapples with the Rape of Nanjing. It deals heavily with opium and drug use. (Opium was a source of Chinese weakness. This book asks what would have happened if opium were instead a source of shamanic power.) This book is primarily about military strategy, collapsing empires, mad gods, and the human ability to make awful, ruthless decisions. It's about how dictators are made.

    To be entirely frank, if you're turned off by violence, I might pick up a different book.

    But! If you liked Avatar the Last Airbender but always wished it were a little darker and more fucked-up, you might like this. I think everyone writes, unconsciously or not, from the sources they loved, and this book ended up being my creative smorgasbord of ATLA, Ender's Game, The Grace of Kings, and Game of Thrones. I'm not saying THE POPPY WAR will necessarily read like those books. But geopolitical dramas mixed with brutally cruel choices is something I loved about all of those works, and I really hope that's reflected in the writing.

    Thanks for stopping by, and I really hope you enjoy the book <3 <3 <3

  • Emily (Books with Emily Fox)

    Hands down Best Fantasy of 2018!

    This was such an amazing read and cannot wait to get my hands on the rest of the trilogy. The books will be insta buys for me!

    War, school, magic, no freaking romance... This book kept me on my toes.

    I have no doubt this series will become huge and I'll make sure to rave about it until you all read it!

    PS. Just wanted to add that there are trigger warnings for... well everything. Self harm, drug use, rape, etc. It's a pretty dark book!

  • Emily May

    ➽ A fantasy military school

    ➽ A rich world based on modern Chinese history

    ➽ Shamans and gods

    ➽ Detailed characterization leading to unforgettable characters

    ➽ Adorable, opium-smoking mentors

    That's a basic list, but this book is all of that and SO MUCH MORE. I know 100% that

    will be one of my best reads of 2018.

    Isn't it just so great when you find one of those books that completely drags you

    ➽ A fantasy military school

    ➽ A rich world based on modern Chinese history

    ➽ Shamans and gods

    ➽ Detailed characterization leading to unforgettable characters

    ➽ Adorable, opium-smoking mentors

    That's a basic list, but this book is all of that and SO MUCH MORE. I know 100% that

    will be one of my best reads of 2018.

    Isn't it just so great when you find one of those books that completely drags you in, makes you fall in love with the characters, and demands that you sit on the edge of your seat for every horrific, nail-biting moment of it? This is one of those books for me. And I must issue a serious content warning:

    Proceed with caution (or not at all) if you are particularly sensitive to scenes of war, drug use and addiction, genocide, racism, sexism, ableism, self-harm, torture, and rape (off-page but extremely horrific).

    Because, despite the fairly innocuous first 200 pages, the title speaks the truth:

    . All of its horrors and atrocities. It is not sugar-coated, and it is often graphic. The "poppy" aspect refers to opium, which is a big part of this book. It is a fantasy, but the book draws inspiration from the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Rape of Nanking.

    It begins with one of my favourite things: a downtrodden orphan attends a fantasy boarding school. However, Rin doesn't get to attend her school by being "chosen" or "special". She works her ass off studying for the Keju test, which allows her to go to the prestigious Sinegard - the best military school in the country. I absolutely love the message this book sends about the merits of hard work and perseverance over genetics and natural specialness. Nothing is handed to Rin on a plate.

    This first part is much lighter than the rest of the book, but I enjoyed it immensely. And there are still many challenges to be faced in these early chapters. Rin must go up against school bullies and racist teachers who don't want a backwater war orphan in their classes. But she also encounters friendship and delightfully quirky teachers who like to get high on opium. And secrets. Secrets like that of the shamans who can conjure gods and use their powers - but those are just a myth, right?

    But there's trouble brewing outside the school's walls. War is coming and Rin and her classmates will be put to the test again and again.

    This is where things get very dark. The strong world-building and carefully-crafted characters set us up to care even more when the action really kicks in and lives are threatened. It is the very opposite of the "mindless action scenes" I have been complaining about recently in fantasy novels.

    I feel like my heart was pounding for the majority of this fantastic story. I can hardly recall the last time I was this engrossed in a book, and I am so so glad there will be more books to come. It's just a

    . There's no romance, but there is a wonderful enemies-to-friends relationship that I can't wait to read more about.

    I am so very excited about this series and seeing where the author takes us next.

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  • Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies

    Epic. Spectacular. Breathtaking.

    . I literally could not put it down. I'm gushing, I know,

    Epic. Spectacular. Breathtaking.

    . I literally could not put it down. I'm gushing, I know, but it is THAT. GOOD. Holy shit this book is brutal. The author is an expert on military strategy and I believe it. If you guys have a weak stomach, this is not for you, but holy shit this is good.

    Really.

    Oh, and no romance. Just girl-power asskickery. UNF.

    I don't want to compare this to Harry Potter because it is so dissimilar, but the premise is a familiar one that will draw comparison, however unlikely. A downtrodden orphan doomed to a miserable life until an opportunity opened up that brings them to an school designated for the special.

    Unlike Harry Potter, the spot at this school is EARNED, through merit, not through mere chance of birth. And the risks are far greater should our hero fail.

    , and I use bitch as a term of praise. You gotta get down and dirty and nasty to survive.

    16-year old

    has a miserable existence. She is an orphan, worked to the bone and intended to be sold off to a ghastly old merchant once she comes of age. She rejects that destiny. In the kingdom, there is an annual test that every pupil takes. If they score high, they get to go to a school to be educated and trained.

    is the best school of them all.

    By studying her fucking ass off, Rin makes it to the top.

    There's no magical induction ceremony here. Life is hard and Rin is hopelessly behind. Her peers are the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful, who have trained for this their whole life. Rin came from nothing and she quickly discovers that

    . It is unimaginably harder than she could have envisioned.

    Her peers hate her. Her teachers hate her. The school is supposed to be based on a system of merit. It's not. Life is full of prejudice, especially for a peasant girl, and people let her know of their contempt.

    Enemies abound. Rin will fail many times before she succeeds.

    The world building is unbelievably intricate. It is based on Ancient China, and it does a great job of portraying an alternate history. I would compare it to Guy Gavriel's

    in that it is loosely based on it, and completely believable, while having elements that distinguishes it from being an actual historical retelling. My only complaint is the names. They're Western or Middle-Eastern based names of sort, and I would have preferred Chinese names too.

    The characters are fantastic, from the mysterious

    to my favorite,

    . He seriously is so awesome and hilarious.

    I am left utterly astonished by the scale and depth of this book. Bravo. Fucking bravo.

  • Em (RunawayWithDreamthieves)

    A really good book has a beginning, a middle, and then it absolutely ends you.

    . The kind of book that makes you want to take part in some ritualistic bonfire—it doesn’t even have to be ritualistic as long as you get to yell and scream and dance around it.

    Look, I wish my pupils were at least heart-shaped so I could more accurately demonstrate my passion but if I ever die suddenly and don't have time to say anything profound, just know that my real last words wi

    A really good book has a beginning, a middle, and then it absolutely ends you.

    . The kind of book that makes you want to take part in some ritualistic bonfire—it doesn’t even have to be ritualistic as long as you get to yell and scream and dance around it.

    Look, I wish my pupils were at least heart-shaped so I could more accurately demonstrate my passion but if I ever die suddenly and don't have time to say anything profound, just know that my real last words will always be about how much I love this book.

    The Poppy War is a historical military fantasy grounded in the bloody history of China’s 20th century in which Rin—a dark-skinned war orphan from the rural south—has fixed her heart on passing the Empire-wide placement test and attending the most prestigious military academy in Nikan, as a desperate lunge at the hope of escaping the gruesome inevitability of an arranged marriage.

    A year at Sinegard of her rival classmates—all heirs of the Warlords and the wealthy and privileged—telling her to cease the folly of imagining herself their equal only gave Rin’s determination a more savage edge, and soon Rin learns, with the aid of her seemingly insane and much-disdained teacher, that she possesses a lethal aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism.

    But the chain of wonders and horrors hadn’t ended with her discovery: the Nikans had lived with the certainty that sooner or later the Federation of Mugan would come and blood would flow, and when they did, Rin finds herself assigned to a company of the Cike—oddball misfits with shamanic powers—fighting for her country’s very survival. Through their shared heritage and a connection to a perilous divinity, Rin glimpses the world as her Commander—Altan—sees it: made simple by the righteousness and fury that were the legacy of their unjustly murdered people. And it made a good whetstone upon which to sharpen her own rage. Rin is determined to win this war and do whatever it takes to ensure that her country would never again be forced to its knees.

    But just how many of those unavoidable choices will result in unforgivable consequences?

    To be honest, summing up the plot of The Poppy War does it a huge disservice. For one thing, it unfurls into at least three books' worth of plot, but without ever feeling rushed or anything less than sure-footed and scrupulous in its exploration of character and setting. This is a dazzling debut painted by an inventive hand that takes hold and doesn’t let go.

    —blending magical elements with a culturally vibrant cast of characters and creating a shadowy world dripping with blood and revenge, in which our fierce, head-strong heroine must claw her way to the top of a deadly pecking order. The author also created secondary characters that were just as richly crafted and multidimensional so that each one gives you a tinge of pain when they go.

    This is not a book for the faint of heart.

    is a wide array of unpleasant possibilities. My mind was unwinding the tangled threads with tattered patience, following each thread from one end to another through a thicket. The author is so good at building tension and sitting tone and once the action gets going, she only delights in twisting the knife deeper and deeper. I never knew in which parts to be elated and terrified, and I continuously felt the caution of wondering whether everything was a trick, or another lie. My expectations were so uprooted and jumbled that I was constantly forced to sit rapt with attention just to get my bearings.

    But what truly snagged at me the most is waking up to the gruesome horrified realization that the author’s depiction of the war between Nikan and Mugen was strongly influenced by the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s, and specifically the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking). There’s sadly nothing too far-fetched or too unbelievable about the horrors in this book and I just can't hold the reality of it all in my head without stirring a war in me between grief and utter disbelief.

    character radiated such an extraordinary vitality and her arc was nothing short of astounding—the years that stretched between the book’s beginning and its ending feeling impossibly vast. Everything Rin was, everything she’s become, grew out of the carnage of her people. Anger and indignation carved away everything else inside her—doubt, fear, embarrassment—leaving room for nothing else, and her will was a blade forged by the sight of her country being whittled down one small piece of itself at a time, despised and taken advantage of.

    I felt her every sorrow and anger and disappointment and

    with a keenness that often forced me to exclamation, to stamping my feet or clutching my book to my chest. And then she meets Altan and together, their wrath ignited, impossible to quell—carving through their minds and pushing everything out of its way.

    ’s life has been a sequence of monsters one after another tossing him about to suit their whims, and it all eventually twisted into wild distorted rage and thwarted fury. He and Rin were two hollowed-out halves of a whole, two allegiances doing battle but the one that has been sewn into their blood since birth winning out, because they would always be the last remaining survivors of their kind, and that has become a truth that both guarded and isolated them.

    And as much as I tried to take heart from their scattered successes, it was precious little to take heart from when it’s matched by horror at its costs and the knowledge that they both had finally become the worst of what they had always had the potential to be. Especially when I still can't shake off the feeling that

    .

    Equal parts heartbreaking, and thoroughly satisfying, 

     is the fantasy novel I feel I've been waiting two lifetimes and a half for. So clear your schedule before picking it up—you won't want to put it down!

    : sexual assault, rape, self-harm, drug use.

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  • Melanie

    First and foremost, please go read one of my best friends in this entire world’s review:

    is not only amazing, he is also an ownvoices Chinese reviewer. Next, I just want to warn you guys that this is a very dark book that is heavily inspired by the

    . Please use caution and know that this book has major

    First and foremost, please go read one of my best friends in this entire world’s review:

    is not only amazing, he is also an ownvoices Chinese reviewer. Next, I just want to warn you guys that this is a very dark book that is heavily inspired by the

    . Please use caution and know that this book has major

    for war themes, drug use, substance addiction, self-harm, racism, misogyny, genocide, bullying, abandonment, abuse, animal death, animal cruelty, brutal torture, brutal killing, brutal rape (off screen, but still maybe the worst I’ve ever read), mutilation, very graphic depictions of how children and adults died, experimentations on people against their will. Again, this is a very dark book that carries some very dark themes. Please use caution.

    is a fantastic debut that I feel so very privileged to have received an ARC of. This is the first book in an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy story, and this first installment is told in three parts; each getting darker and darker. But in part one we meet our main protagonist, Rin, who is a war orphan who is living with a foster family that was forced to adopt her.

    Rin has been working at the family’s local business, while also being forced to deal drugs. That is, until one day her family decided that it would be more in their interest for them marry Rin off to a man who is much older than her and who she has never met before. Rin is then forced to do the only thing that will allow her to not have this life forced upon her.

    In this world, children will study their entire lives for a test called the Keju. And the top fifty students in the country will be allowed to go the empire’s capitol to study at the best military school in the world. There they will be able to become the world’s best generals, tacticians, soldiers, and more. And all the students wish to one day be warriors for the Empire. And Rin dedicates herself to studying so that she can not only escape this marriage, but to also escape her abusive foster parents, and the entire town that has treated her awful just because she was born a war orphan.

    And against all odds, Rin gets accepted. But once she gets to the school, she soon realizes that her spot isn’t guaranteed to last. At the end of the year, the different teachers will pick which students they wish to have study under them. And Rin soon starts to see that most of the school is not only very privileged, but also have power just from their last name and who their family is already in the current military.

    And the reason part one of this book is hands down my favorite is because I love this school setting so much. And like many other reviewers have already said, it is very reminiscent of

    . From the attending kids that have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths, to unexpected companionship, to horrible teachers, to wonderfully odd teachers. And Rin becomes obsessed with not only impressing these teachers and her peers, but to prove that she is also deserving of her spot.

    And while Rin is working to become the best at her school, terrible things are brewing outside the walls of the academy. Terrible, unthinkable things, that are about to impact the whole world. And Rin is forced to quickly learn about another world all together, where gods can make a person a shaman that can wield that power, but at a cost. And Rin has to discover for herself if the price is worth it.

    This is an action packed read, with beautiful writing that feels like a treat to read. This is a story filled with twists and turns, and you might think you know where the story is going, to only be completely dumbfounded. I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough.

    Also, there is sort of an enemies to friends (maybe lovers eventually) element in this book, and I’m dying to see more in book two. Like, there is going to be more of it? Right? Please. Seriously, what God do I have to let inhabit my body? I need it.

    And ultimately, this is a story about a girl who has been given nothing but pain in a world that constantly reminds her that she is lesser. And she overcomes every single hurdle and becomes not only what the world said she couldn’t be, but she becomes what she wanted to be. Like, this book is powerful, empowering, and a love letter to all girls that are told they can’t do something daily.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this one, even if it got even a little too dark for me at times. I think this is a really amazing set up for what is sure to be an impressive debut fantasy series! I cannot wait to see what R.F. Kuang does next, because I really think

    is a bright shining star in 2018 releases.

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    Buddy read with

    ! ❤

  • Bookdragon Sean

    is not a book to be missed by fantasy fans and especially those who like it infused with

    This isn’t some fluffy little tale about teenage romance and personal discovery (although it may seem that way in the beginning.) This is a book about reality. Now that’s an odd thing to say isn’t it? Reality? We’re talking about fantasy here. But do let me explain.

    This is a book about the realities of war. War isn’t pretty. War isn’t about heroic

    is not a book to be missed by fantasy fans and especially those who like it infused with

    This isn’t some fluffy little tale about teenage romance and personal discovery (although it may seem that way in the beginning.) This is a book about reality. Now that’s an odd thing to say isn’t it? Reality? We’re talking about fantasy here. But do let me explain.

    This is a book about the realities of war. War isn’t pretty. War isn’t about heroics and grand deeds. War is about men pissing themselves and running away in fear. War is about control. War is about men trying to murder each other; it’s about soldiers brutalising their enemies and terrorising the innocent. War is about rape, raping of the land and of the defenceless. None of us will ever be ready for it. It is so very unsurprising that Rin turns into a cold hearted bitch by the end.

    Her student days are over before they really began. She only just begins to taste her power (a rage filled magic fuelled by drugs) before she is enlisted and forced to defend her training academy from invaders. Her master taught her to control her power, and trained her only to understand it. He never wanted her to use it, though when backed into a corner Rin unleashes all her fiery fury upon her enemies. It was either that or death. Some will think her character extreme, though I think she is a product of her situation.

    Rin is driven to succeed. This is not a woman who will give up. She has done some excessive things to be admitted into the training academy. She has gone without sleep. She has self-harmed (to allow the former) and she has worked harder than most would think possible. The war has shattered her dreams. It has prevented her from finishing her studies and it has turned her into a killer. She wants to finish it and will do absolutely anything possible to do so, vengeance becomes her new goal. By the end she is unrecognisable even to herself. War has killed her in a way, though it has made her very strong.

    was not the book I thought it would be. The more fantasy I read, the more I see the same similar plot directions and romances. Some details were predictable (such as The Gatekeeper’s identity) though I did not expect it to go quite the way it did. Initially the book parallels much of the basic plot of

    It appeared to be going in a similar direction but then the invaders came and everything exploded into a bloody mess of unpredictability. Such is the nature of war.

    This was far from a bad thing. I did really like the first part of the story, though my interest peaked as chaos descended. War never comes at the right time. It interrupts lives (and plots.) What the author showed us here is that it destroys everything. It destroys our plans and it destroys the direction we set for ourselves, and that’s why the sharp shift in plot was so necessarily strong.

  • jessica

    ‘this book will seriously mess you up.’

    -

    lets get down to business. there is a lot to unpack with this book, so im going to use this review as a way to process my thoughts. to begin, the story is broken down into three parts.

    - this felt very YA to me. students are gathered at an elite school to train to become top soldiers for an imminent war. we get introductions to characters and decent world building. its very straight forward feel to this section.

    - t

    ‘this book will seriously mess you up.’

    -

    lets get down to business. there is a lot to unpack with this book, so im going to use this review as a way to process my thoughts. to begin, the story is broken down into three parts.

    - this felt very YA to me. students are gathered at an elite school to train to become top soldiers for an imminent war. we get introductions to characters and decent world building. its very straight forward feel to this section.

    - this takes on a very different tone than part one, its almost jarring. the war is starting so we see what life is like outside of the school and on the battlefield. there is more world building and the fantasy element of the story begins to make a more prevalent appearance.

    - what did i even just read!? this was dark, and morbid, and even barbaric at times. but it also transcends everything previously developed in the story. things that had been hinted at in the first two sections finally become clearer and the ending of this is just insane. so many themes were explored in this section, i dont even know where to begin. holy crap. this section. definitely not YA.

    its safe to say this book was not what i was expecting. but thats because i picked this up with literally no expectations, other than knowing it was historical fiction. and even though this was based on chinese history, it had a very modern feel to it, which could have been because of the writing. also, it was difficult for me to determine the pacing of this book. at times it felt soooo slow, but then youre hit with a massively action-packed section. i think if the overall story (i.e. atmosphere and pacing) had been more consistent, and even condensed, this would have easily been a 5 star read for me.

    as a whole, i thought this debut was a massive accomplishment and i have a really great feeling about the sequel, and this series in general. im really looking to see how the story will further develop!

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