reviewed The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (The Poppy War, #1)

R. F. Kuang: The Poppy War (Hardcover, 2018, Harper Voyager) 4 stars

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired …

Simply brilliant!

5 stars

I saw lots of enthusiasm for The Poppy War from other book reviewers and bloggers over the past few years since its publication so put it on my wishlist, but I didn't make any further efforts towards reading this book until it was suggested for February's Readalong and I realised it is actually a perfect My WorldReads fit. I learned that The Poppy War series, while being an imaginative fantasy adventure tale, is also strongly reflective of China's twentieth century history. While I am not knowledgeable enough on that topic to spot all the references, I could recognise significant events such as the Opium Wars themselves of course and also the horrors of Nanking which is retold here in a city called Golyn Niis.

From the early chapters where young Rin is mercilessly driving herself to achieve and then succeed in an education to which many people feel she is not entitled, I could understand that The Poppy War was not going to be a light tale, but that didn't prepare me for the grim darkness that Kuang takes us to. This is not a novel for the faint-hearted, especially when considering that its most gruesome scenes aren't fantasy at all. That said, I found Rin's story to be a compelling read which has left me eager to plunge into the sequel.

Rin herself is brilliantly complex and, frequently, not someone with whom I could easily sympathise, even though I could always understand why she makes certain choices. Kuang is skilled at making her protagonists utterly believable while giving them jaw-dropping supernatural abilities and incorporating mythological aspects. This combination allowed me to completely suspend my disbelief while I was breathlessly immersed in Rin's reality.

I'm delighted to have finally started to experience The Poppy War series and hope that I won't wait so long before starting on the second novel!