I don’t remember how I found out about the Poppy War series. I’m almost sure that it was Twitter, but I can’t be certain. Either way I ended up buying The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang not long after it was released, and then in true reader fashion it sat on my shelf for almost a year before I finally read it. Not because I wasn’t interested, but because I knew it was a series and since it would surely end in a cliffhanger I wanted the series to be done before I finally read it. Other fantasy authors have already done me dirty on that front (looking at you Martin and Rothfuss). However from Twitter and BookTube (book channels on youtube) I know that sales are important and a series can be killed before it ends if sales aren’t good, so I tend to just start buying up the series and waiting to read it later. I swear it’s a system that works. Sort of.
Anyway, fast forward to San Diego Comic Con where ARCs (advanced reader copies) for the sequel, The Dragon Republic, are being given away with your purchase. So I bought the paperback edition of The Poppy War (don’t judge I gave it away) and I figured since I had the ARC I’d break my rule so that I could leave a review to support the series.
Reader I have these rules for a reason.
The Poppy War
Once I got home I got right to reading The Poppy War, the first in the Poppy War series. I flew through it, only stopping to text my friend my reactions live. It follows Rin, a poor orphan who is determined to pass the rigorous Keju exam in the hopes of scoring high enough to attend the most elite academy in Nikara Empire, Sinegard. Against all odds she earns a place and has to fight against classist, sexist, and racist tendencies in order to succeed. Her constant strive for power has her seeking a mentor who is reluctant to teach her and who she impatiently learns from. What follows is the start of a new Poppy War, where Rin comes face to face with who she is and what she’s capable of. In her quest for power she’s willing to give up everything, even herself.
This book is intense. Kuang does an excellent job in guiding the reader through Rin’s thoughts and actions even as we scream for Rin to make better choices. At the same time, Kuang paints a picture of the toll of war that is truly astonishing and impressive in its vivid detail. She conveys the pain, anger, and disbelief of the characters so powerfully as they are exposed to the horrors of war; so that when Rin makes her own apocalyptic choice, there’s a part of you that cheers her on.
The Dragon Republic
I suffered reading this book. Truly, wholly suffered. When I struggle to read a book it’s usually because I’m bored to tears. The Dragon Republic had me struggling for the exact opposite reason. I have a problem becoming attached to characters I know are going to suffer, and boy do they suffer. I was so stressed reading The Dragon Republic that for the first time in my life I set myself a reading limit a day: 100 pages no more.
Baby girl Rin had me wanting to smack her, hug her, and take her to therapy. The book picks up a couple of weeks after The Poppy War ends and Rin is struggling to come to terms with her actions at the end of the previous novel. In addition she’s become the defacto leader of her little team, and already she had one member leave her that she’s trying convince to return. The book eventually sees the return of her frenemy/potential boyfriend, so in true Rin logic she teams up with his dad to fight the Big Bad and because she’s a glutton for punishment and wants someone to make her decisions for her, even though she gets mad about it? I’m telling you, she needs therapy.
I’m going to be honest and say I’m still halfway through this book because I was watching the fandom’s descent into screams and tears. Twitter is both a gift and a nightmare. The angst the latter half of the book caused was enough for me to put it down and wait for the third book to finish in order to minimize my suffering. If I was already a nervous wreck in the first half, what might the second half do to me?
Again, this is why I have rules.
The Burning God
The final book in the series, The Burning God, is set to release in November 2020. I’m looking forward and dreading it. I want to know what happens next, but from what Kuang has teased on Twitter she’s really coming for our hearts. I feel like I’ll be able to handle it better this time around since it’s the end. I can just power through calmly and only scream internally.
Why Everyone Should Read The Poppy War Series
After reading this you might be asking, so then why should I read it? First off, Kuang did an AMAZING job building this world so it’s really the least you could do. Secondly, yes the characters can be little shits, but they’re your little shits and you’ll love them despite their flaws. The flaws are what make them more real anyway, and they’re young. They’ll grow out of it. Maybe.
Kunag based the events of the novel around historical events, so there is basis in reality and fascinating to learn about. Being American, I didn’t learn much in school outside of American and British history so the academic in me was excited. Setting the novel in a fantastical China was brilliant and I’ve been inspired to read up on the events that Kuang drew from.
I think the novel is imaginative and well written, and everyone should read it so that we can all cry together.
Have you read the Poppy War series? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image via Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/347410558755918691/
I'm a writer based in California. I received my Bachelor's and Master's in Literature from San Francisco State University. I dream of one day writing books of my own and maybe even being part of a writer's room for a show! I love to talk about pop culture, books, and travel to anyone willing to listen. Some of my favorite topics in those categories are "Avatar the Last Airbender", "Gilmore Girls", the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Mexico, and Paris. My favorite thing in the world though is my dog, he's just the cutest!