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The Poppy War

The Poppy War

Book - 2018
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A war orphan rises from her humble beginnings to become a powerful military commander, and perhaps her country's only hope for survival.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2018]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780062662569
Branch Call Number: SCI-FIC KUANG 2018
Characteristics: 530 pages : map ; 24 cm


From Library Staff

Nominee for 2020 Astounding Award for Best New Writer. (not a Hugo)

Fantasy - short list

From the critics

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May 27, 2021

A friend recommended this to me, saying it was excellent, and while I enjoyed it well enough, I think this is a book that's less than the sum of its parts. It's bleak, and the protagonist is just thoroughly terrible (morally, I mean) in an entertaining way. I enjoyed seeing the world, and it's a cool allegory for the real-world conflict between China and Japan, but this one just sort of missed for me.

May 16, 2021

I'm not impressed. Kuang excels in world building and her descriptions of its places and scenery were well done; however, her severe lack of character development (all with too much animosity for each other), unnecessary profanity, and the constant dumping of information (seriously, it was way too much) reduced the overall appeal significantly. I also felt that many of the elements in this novel resembled other stories like "Mulan", and "Avatar: the Last Airbender", which, to me, were articulated far better. Needless to say, this is Kuang's debut novel, and I certainly give her praise for such an endeavor; writing one novel is difficult enough, let alone three! I just did not appreciate it as much as other people did.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Mar 29, 2021

Really well done Asian-inspired fantasy. I will definitely be reading the whole trilogy, though I loved the beginning more than the ending. A bit grim-dark, so expect a bit of grit. There were a couple of points where there was commentary about colonialism skillfully fit into the story that were quite funny, packed in with all the darkness.

Phil_R Mar 16, 2021

Thought this was just your average epic fantasy series - a little on the gentle side and a bit weak on the world-building, then somewhere around page 300 - OOOFFF. One of the strongest punches to the gut I've ever taken from a novel. Can't wait to get to the Burning God.

LCPL_Vivian Jan 04, 2021

This is the first high fantasy book in The Poppy War trilogy, and what a heartbreaking, raw, and entertaining one it is. The Poppy War follows a war orphan, Rin, who tests into a prestigious institution used for training future generals and statesmen, just to escape her forced marriage. Rin doesn't realize the power that she holds. The story teaches you about the history of the Nikara Empire, and even though it's at peace now, doesn't mean their enemy isn't lurking in the background...ready to strike. I recommend this if you enjoy fantasy, but DO NOT read this if you are under the age of 18. It's not for the faint of heart.

Sep 06, 2020

This is a heartbreaking, gut wrenching, and mind blowing fantasy/alternate history of China in the early 20th century that conflates the opium wars and the Japanese invasion. At the center is Fang "Rin" Ronin, a war orphan who wants to escape from the dead-end south via a scholarship to the prestigious military academy. Little does she know she'll be introduced to the world of shamanism -- and vengeance for a long-dead civilization. Worth a read for anyone interested in this period of history as it poses uncomfortable questions about morality in time of war.

Jan 17, 2020

Wow! What a phenomenal debut novel! Rin is an engaging, motivated protagonist and Altan is a powerful, mystical, complex supporting character. The magic system is creative and vivid. The fantasy setting perfectly evokes Southeast Asia (specifically China and Japan). The story goals and motivations are interesting and dynamic. An absolute treasure to read. My favourite new book.

Hillsboro_RobP Nov 25, 2019

Kuang's novel begins to struggle once the protagonist has moved away from school, where the tension, conflict and goals are all clear. As the plot gets murkier, the war gets bloodier and bloodier but not in a way that facilitates the action or brings a personal connection into the story for the reader. It's shocking, but The Poppy War fails to answer the big question: why should the reader invest in this?

It's not a bad book, but it really makes me appreciate the genius of The Traitor Baru Cormorant which manages to be a smarter novel all around while working with similar protagonists and a few similar themes. In the end, Poppy War is missing excitement and empathy but still uses its historical and cultural ties effectively. A good choice to diverge from typical fantasy settings and enter a world based on Chinese history and myth, despite the book's flaws.

Aug 30, 2019

Réservé à la Bibliothèque de Gatineau

Aug 23, 2019

I gave in to the hype and checked this book out. I kept turning the pages, hoping that it would just get better. But it never really did. The main character acts like a spoiled brat, who thinks she knows better than anyone else. So annoying. But if you like reading about an empowered female teenager, then go for it. I hate kid characters who take over the adult world. How probable is it really that a group of teenagers kills plenty of experienced soldiers?

What I did enjoy was the mythical portion of the book, in which we learned about different gods. But that could have been described in a chapter.

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Add Notices
Sep 12, 2018

Sexual Content: Rape

Sep 12, 2018

Violence: Descriptive Violence Selfharm

May 16, 2018

Sexual Content: References to off-page sexual assault

May 16, 2018

Violence: War and genocide

May 16, 2018

Coarse Language: Liberal use of the word "fuck"


Add Age Suitability
Apr 13, 2020

red_tiger_2354 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

CoreneBee May 14, 2018

CoreneBee thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over


Add a Summary
May 16, 2018

Rin is a war orphan, being raised by the Fang family only because the government has mandated that families adopt such children, and because they find it convenient to use her to help them in their drug smuggling business. Living in the deep rural south of the Nikara Empire, Rin dreams of passing the Keju exam, and traveling north to study at one of the empire’s elite schools. But when her hard work pays off and she tests into Sinegard, the top military academy in the country, Rin discovers that her trials are only beginning. Sinegard’s military and political elite have little time or sympathy for a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south. Desperate to prove herself, Rin unlocks a supposedly mythical power that enables her to summon the strength of the gods. Even as she is further alienated from her teachers and classmates, she becomes the protégé of an eccentric master who has taken no other apprentices from her class. But Master Jiang wants Rin to learn to control and suppress her abilities, while Rin dreams of wielding them in battle for the glory of the Empire. And with the Empire constantly on the brink of the next war with the Mugen Federation, it becomes increasingly difficult to heed her Master’s advice and resist the call of the Phoenix, god of fire and vengeance.


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May 16, 2018

The Keju is a ruse to keep uneducated peasants right where they’ve always been. You slip past the Keju, they’ll find a way to expel you anyway. The Keju keeps the lower classes sedated. It keeps us dreaming. It’s not a ladder for mobility; it’s a way to keep people like me exactly where they were born. The Keju is a drug.

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