No doubt if you are into fantasy, you have heard of this book doing the rounds. It's getting a lot of praise, and rightly so - for the most part.
<i>The Poppy War</i> tells the story of Rin, a war orphan brought up by drug dealers in a fantasy world called Nikara, akin to maybe late Middle Ages China. Rin is driven, willing to do what it takes to rise above her station, and wants to enter the prestigious Sinegard academy, where future military officers are trained. However, the Mugeni (Japanese) army is invading (again), and her training is cut short and she must learn to control her burgeoning powers while staying alive. So far, so great.
However, here's the niggles (as opposed to the Wiggles):
1. School: Pre-Sinegard is great, as she must fight just to do the entrance exam for the Academy. The actual school bit is not so great. It's strikes as mostly formulaic (with some nice surprises), and the fight scene at the end of her first year is straight out of Karate Kid, although Mr Myagi would not approve of the ending. Her relationship with her seemingly insane master Jiang is very nicely done.
2. Random technological suggestions: For example, there is mention of a scene where the Mugeni round up and shoot some Nikaran prisoners, yet not a gun is to be seen (except for some cannons). The Mugeni also have hypodermic needles, which may have actually been a thing at the time.
3. Zombie characters: "Why do characters suddenly appear, every time you are near?" Okay, they're not zombies, but characters have a habit of popping back into the narrative at convenient times. This is partially because it's told in first person (I'm a big fan). Sometimes it's nicely done, other times it's a bit irksome.
4. It seems like there are gaps in the story: There are gaps in the story, but sometimes (correct me if I'm wrong) it feels like we are jumping forward in time rapidly with little explanation for it. Part of this is the first-person narrative, but when you leave gaps in the story, we fill it in ourselves - which is a terrible idea as we're all used to reading fantasy tropes (aaaggghhh!!!). The tale is relatively long (527 pages in hardback), but it's pacy and enjoyable, and I could easily have handled another 100 pages of additional material. This, of course, could be down to the publishers, maybe we'll get an author's cut down the road.
Enough with moaning though. It's a great read. Rin is terrific, as are her two mentors, Jiang and Altan. It's kind of a love story, but more friendship than knocking boots. I could not in good conscience given it less than five stars.