“Rin had spent so long hating how she felt when she burned, hating her fire and her god. Not anymore.”
The Poppy Wars is an epic military fantasy, drawing inspiration from the Song Dynasty, the Opium Wars and the Second Sino-Japanese War. Kuang successfully combines these tumultuous historical events with China’s rich and detailed mythology.
The story follows anti-heroine, Rin, who grew up an orphan due to the Poppy Wars. Her only aspiration being to join Sinegard, the most prestigious military academy in Nikan. Against all odds she makes it, but surrounded by military proteges she has to fight twice as hard to earn her place. With the help of Lore Master Jiang Ziya, she uses shamanism to harness the power of the Phoenix God. All too soon, however, Rin is faced with the realities of war, and is forced to become a hardened soldier. Be prepared for a shocking ending, as Kuang deals with the overarching theme of ‘What makes a person become a monster?’.
Kuang crafts multidimensional characters and elaborate settings with which to explore the darker side of humanity and the price of war. The Poppy Wars Trilogy is not an easy read, even more so when you learn how heavily influenced her work is on real events. Nonetheless, Rin’s journey from start to finish is heartbreakingly satisfying and you will no doubt find yourself unable to put the book down.
Trigger Warnings: animal abuse, torture, genocide, assault, talk of rape, talk of sex trafficking, talk of suicide, PTSD depiction, drug use, bombings, self-harm, panic attacks, cannibalism, mention of miscarriages and abortions, and dark war themes.