The Poppy War


The Poppy War is a fantasy novel that is based off of the period of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a conflict that raged between China and Japan from 1937-1945. It was published in 2018 by R.F. Kuang and quickly became many people’s favorites for the way that it deals with dark subjects such as war, but even more so for the main character, Fang Runin.

Fang Runin, referred to as Pin throughout the course of the story, inhabits the poor south of Nikan where peasants are interchangeable and nobody would even pass her a second chance. Upon learning that her aunt and uncle intend to sell her into marriage, she plans to take the Keju, an elite military test. Not only that, she plans to get into Sinegard, the school where only the best of the best go too, and the only school that will pay her expenses. To do this she has to ace the test without the help of her aunt and uncle, who threaten to throw her out if they find her studying while she’s supposed to be working for them.

When Rin does ace the Keju, everybody’s shocked. The test administrators try to get her to admit that she cheated, but they ultimately can’t find anything to persecute her for, she goes off to Sinegard.

The Poppy War starts out as an underdog story about somebody who manages to outrank her bullies in her classes and become the best of the best. But at about the half way point, it becomes a story about war as Rin and her classmates are forced to fight in the Third Poppy war against the Mugenese who are trying to take over their country.

The Poppy War earns the label of grim dark fantasy through its unforgiving depiction of war and the way Rin is described losing herself to the all consuming rage that the Phoenix, the fire god, brings to her. Over the story, she finds herself relying more and more on the Phoenix to win her battles to the point that she shares her mind with the Phoenix indefinitely. Rin is a very interesting character to follow especially since she is written intentionally to not be a good person. She’s as anti-hero as they come, her morals changing for the worse as the series continues.

Overall, it’s a very good book, and it’s one of my personal favorites. However, there are a lot of trigger warnings for this book so I wouldn’t recommend somebody go into it blindly. R.F. Kuang’s ability to make an interesting setting, loveable characters that normally would be considered bad guys, and the history that is being taught in The Poppy War digestible has made sure that I’m going to love this series for a long time.