Book Review: The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

This year started with my grumbling that I couldn’t access the Kindle store anymore from my 12 year old kindle. Hearing my grumbles, my partner surprised me with a new Kindle on my birthday. And this Kindle has features like a back-light and Bluetooth! It’s very exciting. And the first book I chose to read on this Kindle is The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.

I admit its been in my “to be read” lost for awhile now and I just hadn’t gotten around to it. In some ways, I am glad I haven’t read it sooner because I don’t know if I would have been able to emotionally cope. The Poppy War is a book about war and desperate decisions that people feel they are pushed towards. As such, there are several scenes throughout depicting violence and horrible acts of brutality. As someone who has a toddler and a baby I admit I have become a bit sensitive to depictions of violence against children and babies and The Poppy War doesn’t shy away from that.

War was not a game, where one fought for honor and admiration, where masters would keep her from sustaining any real harm. War was a nightmare.

R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

The Poppy War doesn’t glorify the brutality. Instead, you feel your heart breaking alongside the characters as they witness each act and the subsequent devastation. Each depiction serves a very real purpose to developing the characters arc and the choices they make. By the end, even though you may be screaming in your head, “Don’t do it!” you still understand how they came to be that desperate.

The Poppy War is definitely a book that will sit in your head for a time afterwards. While it begins as a coming of age, go to this school story – it quickly becomes a story about war. This is not a story about the chosen one’s path to glory. This is a story about desperation and anger and the consequences of decisions made by those emotions.

In order to better understand the context of this book, I highly recommend researching the political history between China and Japan – especially the Second Sino-Japanese War.

They were monsters!” Rin shrieked. “They were not human!”

“Have you ever considered,” he said slowly, “that that was exactly what they thought of us?

R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War


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