the poppy war cover
The Poppy War

Author: R. F. Kuang

Pages: 544

Genre: Adult: Fantasy, Historical Fiction 

Format: Audiobook/Paperback

Publication Date: 4th May 2018

My Rating: 4/5 stars

“Children ceased to be children when you put a sword in their hands. When you taught them to fight a war, then you armed them and put them on the front lines, they were not children anymore. They were soldiers.” 

Goodreads synopsis:

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.

My review:

I received an e-book copy of The Poppy War from Harper Voyager via Netgalley, but ended up listening to the audiobook and reading from a library copy because the book is chunky and reading it as an ebook hurt my eyes. But all my thoughts and opinions are my own. 

I have become something wonderful, she thought. I have become something terrible. Was she now a goddess or a monster? Perhaps neither. Perhaps both.


  • The world building is intricate and complex. We learn much about Nikan’s history and culture in the first chapter, and in the following chapters, we learn more about the country’s history and the first two Poppy Wars. 
  • The first chapter had me hooked and engaged, the writing is easy to understand and is always engaging. The book is very descriptive but it’s description are not boring but provide context and colour to the story, helping to build the world more visually in my mind.
  • It was also fun learning about the Poppy Wars through Rin’s classes and studies. 
  • I liked Rin’s determination and stubbornness, and those traits help her to succeed in her dreams and to survive and thrive in the academy as well as after her days in the academy.
  • I actually enjoyed meeting and getting to know all the characters. They were all unique and complex and not at all 2-dimenionsal like some supporting characters ahah.
  • Dialogue is witty and humorous and it made me smile and laugh, especially whilst listening to the banter. 

“Weird things,” she said. “We’re studying very weird things.”

Jiang raised an eyebrow. “How articulate.”


  • Because of the length of the book, I put it down last year and it took me half a year to pick it back up again. I decided to listen to it as an audiobook to help motivate me to actually finish it.
  • Sometimes the story would make me lose interest, especially near the beginning but it picks right up in the middle of the book so I guess it’s okay. 
  • It’s very bloody and gory and sometimes graphic, which I expected but didn’t realise how much it would be. I think it’s good that the book doesn’t shy away from it, but it would be nice to have trigger warnings at the start of the book so people are aware so they can skip the chapter. 

Overall, The Poppy War is a dark fantasy book based on historical events that had me engaged in its story. It was a little too chunky for me and I struggled to finish reading it. However, I would highly recommend picking this one up because it has intricate world building. kick-ass characters and constant plot twists that leave you shocked and wanting more. Plus it can contribute to your #YARC2019 reading challenge and will also support Asian authors.

Let's talk

Have you read The Poppy War yet? If so, what did you think about it. Do you agree or disagree on any of my points? If you haven’t read it, are you planning to soon?



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