Book Review: The Poppy War by RF Kuang

“I don’t need your pity. I need you to kill them for me. You have to kill them for me,” Venka hissed. “Swear it. Swear on your blood that you will burn them.”

Whether you’re looking for a book with fast-paced and unexpected plot twists which keep you up at night, or perhaps, heaps of action-packed scenes to make your adrenaline rush, there’s something for every reader in this book.

The Poppy War comes first in R.F. Kuang’s much-hyped trilogy. Our protagonist Rin is a war orphan, who gets admitted in the coveted Sinegardian academy. In a sea of ambitious snobs belonging to affluent families, she has to fight for her place. Her lack of expertise in martial arts doesn’t help in a cut-throat world. As this realisation hits Rin, she hones her abilities while unknowingly summoning a God with opium and inbuilt rage.

The Poppy War implores the audience to know more about Chinese history related to shamanism and, especially, the Sino-Japanese war. While being interesting, the book felt like a cliched rags to riches account. Meh, Very predictable. I disliked Rin’s character development after she was out of Sinegard. Secondly, some of the characters’ rage-filled dialogues were rather cocky and pompous.

Now to the good part. Kuang doesn’t shy away from depicting the barbarities of war, costing a million innocent lives. It helped to show the uncomparable destruction that comes with it. Reading the graphic portrayal of mutiny was horrifying while being a fitting description. Although Rin’s days at her academy are short-lived, the author expertly deep-dives into the forms of martial arts, Chinese lore and its history. I thought those details were beautifully crafted.

Rin’s uncontrollable (and kinda scary) skill, brings her into the limelight as her country goes into war with the neighbouring empire. Thereon begins a bloodcurdling battle which shows Rin’s attempts to navigate her way in the treacherous world. After witnessing human savagery first hand, she is required to make significant choices that shape the remaining plot.

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