I’ve been meaning to read The Poppy War since it was released last year. But, to be honest, I haven’t had the best luck with fantasy lately, so every time I thought about picking it up, I just wasn’t excited to do so. And then I read The Priory of the Orange Tree and was pretty disappointed. So, in an attempt to prove to myself that I still love fantasy, I picked up The Poppy War. And it was the best decision.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) 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.
I am all about strong female characters in fantasy. Especially if they’re incredibly intelligent (Hermione might have set the bar pretty high). But what I love most are characters that are intelligent and talented, but still flawed. And Run fits the bill perfectly. I loved reading about her so much because I couldn’t help but identify with her (apart from getting into an extremely elite school and having shamanic powers).
This book has so many elements that I loved. I really liked that the magic system – if you can call it that – is mythology based. I found it fascinating and I looked forward to reading those parts of the book. I liked the school and testing portion of the book (no surprise there). But I was a little surprised to find how much I enjoyed the political aspect of this novel. Politics are usually hit-or-miss for me, especially in fantasy, and this one was very heavy on the politics. But I thought they were so well done. Without spoiling anything, there is a brief scene maybe halfway through this book that is literally just politics (and doesn’t involve any of the main characters at all really) and it was probably my favorite moment in the book.
The overall story was great. It reminded me a lot of Mulan, if Mulan was unbelievably dark and violent (seriously, scroll down a bit and check out all the trigger warnings I felt I needed to include for this book). But even with how brutal this book is, I still loved it. The story took me some time to get into, but by the end, I had a hard time putting it down. I cannot wait to jump into the next book in this series. And lucky for me, I put off reading this one for so long that book two is already out!
Trigger warnings for: rape, self harm, violence, substance abuse, genocide, torture, and racism.
★★★★★ – I loved The Poppy War! I definitely regret not picking it up earlier (though I probably still haven’t learned my lesson about putting off reading books after I buy them). If you like fantasy and are okay with a lot of violence, I would highly recommend this one!
The Poppy War is available in paperback now! And I actually love the new cover. You can get a copy on Amazon.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose The Poppy War as one of your two free books.
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