I was going to hopefully have the whole of the Mistborn series out for you. That did not happen! Instead you will have to settle for this book review instead! I probably will not get to the sequel until December of Dragons. Look out for it then!
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Synopsis From The Book
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.
Fantasy | A – X |War Brutality, Genocide, Abuse, Bullying, Human Experimentation, Rape | Belief, The Cost of War, Friendship, Loss, Vengeance
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
I have been waiting to read this book for forever. I’m reading it for book club and I am so hype. I know it is Chinese lore in base and a fantasy that is gritty for war. I’m so excited to read it. I do know that it is going to take me a while to read. It is rather long but I’ll be okay.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
WOW. Now look, I knew this book was going to be brutal, but not THAT brutal. It was gruesome, it was horrifying, bloody, and adrenaline pumping. I feel like I need to take a big break from this book before I can come back and finish this review. It was a lot. Please be warned if you are going into this book. It was good, but horrifying. For the rating, I had to debate between Adult and Explicit. I was hesitant on which one to put it under, but then I remembered some of the descriptions so I went X.
Runin, Ria for short, is a girl who is a runner for an Opium den in her village. She was a war orphan adopted by law (which made it so all war orphans were adopted) and is hated by her adopted mother. When her mother tries to marry her off, Ria studies and studies hard for the prestigious test that has the possibility of moving her from poverty to a school. She tests in to the top academy in the country, and immediately goes there escaping her fate. She is not welcomed at the school, as a commoner, for the school is made for nobles. However she makes friends with a boy name Kitay, and slowly begins to progress in her classes.
She meets Jiang who was the most mysterious teacher at the school, and wants to learn more about his subject Lore. It is only when she is kicked out of a class, her fighting class, when a boy, Nezha, fights her, that she begins to study under Jiang for fighting. She learns much about fighting, and at the end of her first year, she is in a good position in her class. With what she learned she makes her way though the top of the tournament bracket, and beats Nezha, however in it she flies into a rage, consumed by fire that she does not know. Jiang tells her that the power is the power of the gods. She pledges Lore with him to learn to control the power.
Her second year, she learns that she is mysterious to her own classmates. She also learns of the truth behind the gods and the likes. In time she learns how to properly meditate, and takes the drugs necessary to see the gods in total. Only after doing so does she see that Jiang is portly the most sane person she has ever met, she also learns that he does not intend to train her to use the power. She knows she has to learn that herself.
Tyr is the commander of Cike, the elite division of assassins for the empress who are also Shamans. He dies at the Empress’s hands who seems to be doing something with the enemy. Altan immediately becomes commander of the Cike. War breaks out, the third Poppy War, and quickly Sinegard is attacked. Run and the others fight. She and Nezha team up to not die, but a general of the Federation comes. Jiang stops them. A massive explosion happens, and Rin is cornered by the general who stabs Nezha twice. She activated the Phoenix fire and the next thing she knows, she is in confinement. She helped win the battle for Sinegard and the Empress is sending her to the Cike. Nezha did survive but he may not walk again.
Rin goes to the Cike with Altan and meets all her new teammates. She is trained on the war front, but she can not release the flames again. They are able to take down a shipment of supplies, but their city is then bombed in a Trojan horse sort of way. Altan and Rin fight a lot, about how she can’t use her powers. Nezha shows up walking, and they become real friends but he is lost in a gas attack, that makes Rin lash out at Altan. Altan’s second in command arrives and tells Rin to grow up and then later helps her try to access her powers past the woman who blocks her. They learn in the Pantheon (spirit realm) that the fight they are fighting is but a distraction for the real Federation target.
The Cike go to the war capital, where the Federation Soldiers went. They sail across a river of blood and get to the city to see it desecrated. Bodies stacked, posed, destroyed, a sight to behold of heinous acts. Ria finds Kitay who survived, and Venka who survived. Venka was hurt beyond anything Ria could imagine, and they end up burning the bodies, there are so many. Altan convinces them to go to the mountain range, where they seal the Shamans who have been taken over by their gods. Only Rin and Altan go. Ria finds out that Jiang was the Gatekeeper, and he tell them not to do what they were planning to do. They release a person named Feylen, who was the commander of the Cike before Tyr. He escapes but Altan and Ria are captured by Federation guards who were told by the Empress where they would be. They are brought to a testing facility, the same one that held Altan when he was a child, and start tests on them. Rin and Altan escape with the power of the Phoenix, but Altan destroys the facility in total, to his death.
Ria swims to Speerlie island, and communes with the Phoenix god, and takes its power. She destroys every single Mugen on the Longbow island, destroying the Federation completely. She does this through a volcano explosion, and then she is found by the Cike, finding that she is the new commander of the Cike. Some of the CIke members had gone north and destroyed the dams, flooding out the Federation soldiers in the North winning the war. But at what cost Kitay asked her. Their new enemy is the Empress.
What I Liked:
Rin; What an interesting character. She is so driven for praise, and later vengeance, that her morals are so unaligned with my own. What she did to the Mugens horrified me. It horrified her too, but she had to get past it. She was always seeking love, love that she never got, and that was so abundantly clear. Seeing the world through her eyes, rather than say Kitay or Altan, is necessary for this story, and it is so clear.
Altan; My boy. The world destroyed you and all I want to do is hug you and help you get therapy. He was brutally drugged, tested, traumatized, and made to be a weapon. I feel so much for him, but somehow I don’t think he is dead. I really don’t. I also don’t want him to be dead, after everything horrible that happened to him, I just wanted him to be happy. Unfortunately, the world is cruel and that does not happen.
Kitay; This guy is smart and I’m interested to see what he does in the next book. He is like the voice of reason for Rin, the last one she has. If she loses him, I’m worried about what will happen, however he is smart. I really hope he becomes a great tactician, and maybe more. If anyone, anyone so far, might be a good Emperor in the future, he’s the only bet I have right now.
Nezha; This guy. I hated him but it was a childish hate, just like Rin, based on petty squabbles and being children. I think that if he’s alive, he might be one of the love interests for Rin, because he was set up so well to be. He is a very pure character, relatively speaking, and beautiful beyond words. I would not be surprised. I have a hard time believing he’s dead, because he should already be dead, so we’ll see how it goes.
The Cike, 13th Division; So, this division of soldiers are all so unique and I know some of them are going to die. It’s obvious. Who? I have no clue. I’m interested to see how this group dynamic continues on forward into the next book and if I learn more about it. Will I have a new group to love? I’m not sure, but I sure am ready.
Schooling; A whole culture around a class system and a schooling system. The Kugen, the test to get into the academies is rigorous and crazy. And then the fact that the schools all over the country can be at different levels and teach you different things. I really liked it because it is not often that I read of a system that is so focused on a specific type or education or test.
War; So I knew this book was going to be brutal and hold nothing back in the war department. Still I was amazed in how graphic and real it got. Fear, death, rape, genocide. All of it was there. All of it was tangible. The war culture of the people was interesting to me, as well was the line about how they are behind their peers when it came to actual war (or so said the Mugen). The fact that the top school of the country is a military academy is saying something about this delicate country, that is more like twelve countries. The use of war in the book is essentially the plot rather than a device, which is to say this book revolves around war, rather than a political plot that turns into a war. It was a change of pace for me.
Magic; This magic system is so different than most magic systems I read, in the sense that it is very god based, but nature based, and belief based. I really did like it. The use of drugs, specifically, is an interesting aspect of it all to me. A magic system where you have to get high, or just high enough, to become one with the god who chose you, but not too high that you can’t do anything. Then what they can do with their god abilities, is dependent on the god that embodies them. Its really interesting and I can’t wait to see more.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
Oh man, none.
So we had a lot to say about Rin and what she was doing. She was very impulsive. We talked about how we would have like the book to be longer, specifically in the first part to incorporate more of the darkness into it, so the second part didn’t feel so sudden. We also would have liked to get more with the Cike before they went into the front lines. Most people didn’t feel like they got enough of the characters personalities to call them a found family. I would have just liked more in general. Thanks.
“If this was drowning then Rin didn’t want air, didn’t need it so long as she could keep gazing into those glittering obsidian wells.” – pg 180
“The world was simpler when all that existed was what you could perceive in front of you.” – pg 197
“War does determine who’s right. War determines who remains.” – pg 233