The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
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.
This is a powerful brutal book and I freaking loved it.
Rin is a war orphan and well, she does her bes tot get a scholarship to a school to avoid getting married off to an old man just so her foster family can kinda get rid of her and “sell” her well (money talks). So she manages that and goes to military school.
The best thing about this book is that it has many of the things I love in general and in books. One of them is the whole “this happens in a school” (which is part of the first part and the second part of the book). There is also a lot of military, fighting and strategy information, which I love very much (we watch documentaries on tanks, on spies, on guns, on military strategy, on yeah… you get the gist I will stop here, the point is that reading her training made me very happy).
And then we have the bonus of weird magic that is powered by a mysterious thing (because spoilers, though I did guess what it was but nevermind) or drugs (while reading this I couldn’t help but feel like I was back in Mexico and also about Carlos Castañeda’s books). Lore is what they call it.
Now this is where I would like to discuss all the spoilers and all that stuff but I really shouldn’t. I have to say, only one of the twists surprised me. This usually means I enjoy the book a little less, but not for this one. It just made it good because it wasn’t the goal that meant it but rather the “how we got there” and it was a glorious brutal journey.
This is also a great example of how side characters aren’t there just for the sake of, and they all exist as individuals. Plus Rin is a little bit of a bad person and you hate her sometimes (you also love her at times) and this doesn’t make you want to throw the book at the wall and give up. My uttermost respects to Miss Kuang for pulling such an amazing story and giving it layer over layer of information. This also includes the historical nuance.
As a bit to know, there is self harm in it (burning), there is obviously a LOT of violence and gore, implied rape and dehumanization, amongst many other vile things (I can’t even remember them all) so this isn’t a fluffy light book. But despite all the hard stuff, it was an amazing read.