The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Poppy War.
Series: The Poppy War #1.
Writer(s): R.F. Kuang.
Publisher: Harper Voyager.
Format: Hardcover.
Release Date: May 1st 2018.
Pages: 530.
Genre(s): Fantasy.
ISBN13: 9780062662569.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.


War is Hell. But a time without it has never seen the day. Through those dark periods, the lessons we learn are often those that we retain the longest, but history shows that we love to repeat our mistakes. To expect anything else from humans would be irrational. But what happens on the battlefield is often not the same as what is told throughout generations. From creating a dichotomy with heroes and villains to embellishing the who, what, where, whywhen and how, these stories share the common purpose of immortalizing a message. With legends filled with mystical occurrences being the perfect example, you sometimes have to wonder how much of these stories are true and how much is the result of mankind’s imagination. But what if there were no lies in what was told? Fantasy author R.F. Kuang offers a historically-inspired debut fantasy novel to delve into a little girl’s journey through maturity and ultimately into war.

The Poppy War tells the story of Fang Runin, who goes by the name of Rin, a war orphan from the Rooster Province who seemed destined to a life of misery as she reached the point in her life where her guardians would marry her off in hopes of further expanding their criminal enterprise. It is her resolute volition to take on the Empire-wide test to recruit the most talent youth to a free scholarship at the Academies, that presented her with her last hope in becoming much more than what she’s being forced into. As she goes head first onto a treacherous and bloody path towards war but also mysticism, she will find out the hard way that things are only getting started for her. While greatness is not achieved by sleeping your way through life, Rin finds herself constantly challenged by the people around her into building her character through adversity and perseverance. However, will she do whatever it takes to get what she wants or crumble from the weight of the trials that life has in store for her? 


Split into three parts, the story explores theory, theology and warfare, while always cranking the level of darkness and gore as you progress. Creatively structured, R.F. Kuang does an impeccable job in developing her characters and her world in The Poppy War. The first part of the book draws upon the famous school trope and focuses on Rin’s book smarts as well as her training as a military combatant. With various themes often found throughout academia, from bullying to anxiety, the climax of her education remains an exciting moment of discovery that leaves fans craving for more. Upon reaching the second part, R.F. Kuang starts to truly explore the elements of fantasy that will structure the lore of her trilogy. It is here that she does not shy away from building intrigue and suspense through the potential of her world and her mythology. The way this also shapes Rin into enveloping her mind around concepts that she never truly believed in mirrors what the reader feels and keeps us fully invested into the adventure.

The third and final part is where theory is put into practice. The story now shows its true colours and marvels in its qualities and potential. R.F. Kuang flexes her creativity and historical ingenuity once she starts to dive into the military plot. How she fuses mythology and gods into what seemed like a world void of magic is truly mesmerizing and really captures the readers heart with the vivid, and sometimes really gory, sequences that throws you right in the heart of the action. There are however extraneous moments throughout the story that led nowhere or didn’t offer the intended comic relief, but for the most part, the story always builds upwards and looks to draw a clearer picture of the universe in which these characters live in, while also leaving enough mystery to torture the reader in their pursuit for answers.

While the grimdark elements progressively take form, there is no refuting its presence in The Poppy War. Violence, cruelty and horror are usually crucial companions to war, and R.F. Kuang brilliantly portrays it all in this story. Even through Rin, R.F. Kuang is able to display a young and flawed character that has yet to truly or fully understand the nuances of war and the emotions that come with it. But it’s how she struggles to contain her own feelings that makes her character so complex, so intriguing and sometimes, so very irritating. 

Framed within a military fantasy novel, R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is a phenomenal Asian-inspired epic blooming with mythology and warfare.





39 thoughts on “The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

  1. Hmm… this book’s been doing its rounds on the blogosphere. I’m curious, and your review made me even more intrigued, but I’m still not sure if I’m going to like it. Guess I need to check out for myself 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. I sort of skipped over the hype and totally felt indirectly attacked by the Universe for not having read it on release, but it was an intriguing debut novel. I’d still say that my favourite (even if I haven’t read that many) military fantasy is Brian McClellan’s Sins of Empire (and probably anything he writes). 😛 Hope you’ll enjoy this one if you ever do give it a try!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I keep seeing this on Amazon all the time. I thought it was a traditional fantasy, so i figured i won’t like it.
    I’m still not sure i would, but i’m defo more curious, so saved it on my list for future reference 😀
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another stellar review Lashaan! I have seen this book praised by many but I love your intake with this general thinking about history is repeating. You are so right and I am so chagrined! Because people seem to never learn from the past. Having an author not embellishing war is a relief. You’ve pushed me a little more in the “one click buy” of this book 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Sophie! I’ve seen loads of love for this book since its release too. Ahhh, absolutely. Sometimes I do wonder if repeating history is really just necessary for society to progress… To re-learn lessons through experience rather than textbooks. A bit sad, but I think there’s a little bit of truth to it. 😛 Yep. R.F. Kuang does a wonderful job in portraying war (the story is actually based on a real event too; the Nanjing Massacre). Glad to hear you’re a bit closer to getting it! I’ll just have to review it a couple more times now and that should do it! 😛


  4. There have been so many people talking about this book and even though it maybe isn’t the kind of book I’d automatically reach for if I saw it on the bookshelves it’s one I have to add to my TBR list, just because I’ve yet to see anything negative or mixed being said about it. This is a great review Lashaan, just what you’ve said about how Kuang has developed the world and grown Rin’s character makes me think I’ll love The Poppy War as much as everyone else seems to have. I take it you’ll be reading the second book in this series when it’s released. 🙂
    Again great review. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only seen love being thrown towards this book since its release. Hopefully when you get the chance to try it out you’ll love it as much, or more, than everyone else! And yes! Rin grows throughout the book, and sometimes prettttty fast too. She is flawed and still has plenty to learn however. But good thing this is a trilogy though! 😛 I’ll definitely seek out the second at some point. Definitely a promising trilogy for fantasy lovers to love! 😀 Thank you so much for reading, Beth! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think one of the factors history inevitably repeats itself in respect to wars being our reality in every century is because of the predictably patterns we cling to out of a sense of familiarity and therefore, a false sense of comfort, and not being able to think beyond other alternatives because of fear of unknown. So “dealing with the devil” you know kind of thinking tends to win through than going down the road that one can’t predict what might happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is indeed a curiously fascinating take on it all. Fear of the unknown has always been mankind’s greatest weakness and has led them to a lot of dangerous paths, often stuck in that same cycle. It is only those who face that unknown and “innovate” that truly help us progress. I like that.

      Liked by 1 person

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