The Poppy War

R. F. Kuang
The Poppy War Cover

The Poppy War


This is a compelling book, drawing on a history I am largely ignorant of to tell a compelling fantasy story.

The beginning of the book seems familiar. Rin, a young orphan escapes from her abusive foster family by going to a boarding school. There she studies with a quixotic pedagogue, develops a rivalry with a fellow student and discovers a magical world she was previously ignorant of. So far, so Harry Potter.

There are hints at something darker even in these early stages, but about a third of the way through the novel it abruptly shifts gear, becoming a brutal war story. This is not fantasy story about the heroism of war. Kuang draws heavily on the Second Sino-Japanese War (the Asian conflict which began with the Chinese invasion of Manchuria in 1937 and would later be incorporated into World War 2) and there is no sugar dressing of the horrors of the conflict.

Kuang weaves a story about gods, shaman and magic around her historical influences. This is the first book in a trilogy and she is able to tie up the story she wants to tell, while leaving enough threads hanging to make me plan to pick up the next book.