The Poppy War by Rebecca F. Kuang

Rin hates her life. Her adopted parents are abusive and attempting to marry her off to further their Opium smuggling operation. That over her head, Rin see’s the national exam to get into Sinegard university as the only way to get out. As she goes to Sinegard however, past and present collide and as she learns of her connection to long-forgotten gods, she holds the power to change the world.

The Poppy War… what can I say about this book? The world, which took heavy inspiration from China, absorbed me in an instant. The characters were compelling and the plot was engrossing. The magic system was unique and well done.

I should probably mention this is dark fantasy. While it takes place in a fictional land, the conflict is based on the Sino-Japanese war that happened in the 1930’s and 40’s and this book pulls no punches. It shows the horrors of war in full color and, without spoiling things, things get especially dark in part three.

And yet somehow Rebecca F. Kuang manages to make it all feel real without making any of it feel gratuitous or glorified. All of the emotions are processed by the characters and nothing is glossed over. Throughout the book you feel the pain the characters do, which makes their later actions that much more believable and that much more painful to watch.

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There is so much I could dig into with this book, more than I have time to in one post, but The Poppy War is one of my favorite books of this year so far. I recommend this to any fan of dark fantasy or historical fiction, but I do want to caution that this book is not for the squeamish. I also want to mention content warnings for rape, child abuse and gore.

How she managed to include all she did and not make any of it feel gratuitous I don’t know, but The Poppy War is a deeply intelligent book deserving of multiple read-throughs. If you think you can manage some of the darker parts than I highly recommend this book.

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