(Partial) Series Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Posted by Jessi (Geo) on April 22, 2022 | 0 Comments

(Partial) Series Review: The Poppy War by R.F. KuangThe Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War #1
Published by Harper Voyager (5.1.2018)
Genres: High Fantasy, Adult
Format: Hardcover, 530 pages
Source: Library

4 Stars

When Rin aced the Keju — the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies — it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard — the most elite military school in Nikan — was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power — an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive — and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away.

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity ... and that it may already be too late.

My thoughts

It actually took me two tries to get into this book. *hides* The first time I just wasn’t in the mood. I didn’t make it very far before I moved on. The second time went a lot better! It does start a little slow, but once it picks up it’s a pretty good read. It gets super intense in a few points! I really enjoyed it while I was reading it, even though it didn’t really stick with me like I’d hoped. I appreciated that Kuang didn’t pull punches – bad shit happens to her characters and in general within the story. War is dark and ugly and this book does not shy away from that fact.

I loved the idea of the gods and the powers! Very cool concept. Oh and Jiang was awesome – he was hilarious and by far my favorite character! The other characters were just okay for me. I didn’t connect to Rin like I hoped I would. She was kind of rash and petulant sometimes, but I did understand where she was coming from. I also wish I had more of an emotional connection to the book overall – I mean, some really bad shit happened and I barely batted an eyelash. Oops.

Overall Assessment

Plot: 4/5
Premise: 4/5
Writing style: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
World-building: 4/5
Pace: 3.5/5
Feels: 3/5
Cover: 3/5
Overall rating: 4/5

(Partial) Series Review: The Poppy War by R.F. KuangThe Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
Series: The Poppy War #2
Published by Harper Voyager (8.8.2019)
Genres: Adult, High Fantasy
Format: Hardcover, 658 pages
Source: Library

2 Stars

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.

My thoughts

Talk about second book syndrome. And unfortunately, I’m a maaaajor black sheep here. Scrolling through Goodreads, it’s a SEA of 4 and 5 star reviews. I found maybe two reviews under 4 stars. Yikes.

It was just SO. SLOW. It’s a giant paperweight full of war and politics. I felt like I was just reading a history book. (I know that this is heavily based on the Chinese Civil War, and it felt like I was reading a recount of that instead of a historical-based FANTASY.) Yawn. I put this down for several weeks before I finally picked it back up, and it took me FOREVER to finally get back into it. And even then, it would go in spurts. I’d get super into it at certain points – namely, the action scenes – then it would get tedious and boring again. The paragraphs upon paragraphs of war strategy made me want to take a nap. I confess that I did a lot of skimming. I know many people LOVED this book, but that’s just not my cuppa, sorry.

I also hated Rin in this book. She was SO awful!!! Like I don’t know how so many people love her to pieces. She was apathetic, whiny, pathetic, and straight up rude for basically the entire book. She was flippant about people DYING and didn’t seem to have much emotional reaction to anything that was happening. She did not give a shit about anyone but herself. View Spoiler »

In the last 1/4 or so of the book, lots of stuff starts happening (finally), but at that point I was so apathetic toward the story that I just didn’t care. View Spoiler »

Overall Assessment

Plot: 2/5
Premise: 4/5
Writing style: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
World-building: 4/5
Pace: 1/5
Feels: 1/5
Cover: 3/5
Overall rating: 2/5

Originally I had saved this draft so I could come back and review the Burning God when I read it and post the whole series review together. But, the more time that passes, the less I want to read it. At this point I have lost all desire to finish this series, seeing as how I didn’t care much at all for the second book and hated the main character. Honestly, the odds are HIGHLY likely that I will never pick up the third book. So, it was time to go ahead and post this!

Jessi (Geo)

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