3 Aug 2018

#Review: THE POPPY WAR by R.F. Kuang


Author: R.F. Kuang
Series: Untitled #1
Source: Purchased from Kindle
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: May 1, 2018
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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.
Please read Petrik's review to see what an ownvoices Chinese reviewer thought of this book. THE POPPY WAR is based on real events in Asian history but fictionalized.

I had heard such good things about this one and there was a "controversy" about where it was categorized in genre and age group, so I picked it up. I was promised gore, cruelty, and an amazing new Adult Fantasy novel but I didn't *really* get that. This was a solid story up until about 55% and then it was just meh

Here's the thing: the opening was fantastic. For how interested I was in the first chapter, that was about a test, I had very high hopes for this story. The school part was super cool as well. I liked how everyone had different strengths, weaknesses, and an overall interest in things. I liked the training, seeing the different streams of teaching, and all the aspects related to the schooling.

But I didn't like when we got to the actual war. Was it needed? Yes. Did it make sense? Sorta. It felt rushed and as if there wasn't really an explanation beyond the fact that the author wanted to have a war. Which is fine, I don't care, so long as what happens in the war makes sense and follows good logic.

That, sadly, wasn't the case. I was told that there was genocide, rape, and a bunch of other war aspects to this - and there was. But I just... something felt off about these aspects. As if they were forced to make this feel like an Adult Fantasy novel. Because that is what the "controversy" was about: should this be classified as a YA or Adult novel. And based on the voice, the characters, and the beginning of the novel? Definitely YA. By adding in the war aspects and the descriptions of rape and genocide, it became an Adult novel.

And these depictions? It just didn't feel natural. We went from seeing the one character as just one of the female characters in the novel, to a "named" female character that was repeatedly raped just to say that rape happens during war. Is it important to state this? Yup absolutely. But not this way, in my opinion. Honestly, Part 2 and Part 3 were boring enough that I could have easily skimmed this and felt the same way about the way that this violence was depicted.

The ending was also meh. It was just too easy for the characters to "win" and so far we haven't seen much of dealing with the consequences. I wanted to see more of the new characters that were introduced rather than only knowing them for their "powers" and nothing more. 

Will I continue with the series? Maybe. Did I think this was the Be All End All of Adult Fantasy? Nope. Everyone and their mother loved this one but I gotta say it was just not the book for me. Do I understand why people loved the first half? Yup. But after that? Not so much.

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