The Poppy War

By R. F. Kuang,

Book cover of The Poppy War

Book description

Winner of the Reddit Fantasy Award for Best Debut 2018

'The best fantasy debut of 2018' - WIRED

A brilliantly imaginative epic fantasy debut, inspired by the bloody history of China's twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.

When Rin aced the Keju - the test to find the…


Shepherd is reader supported.
We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund the project for readers and authors. Please join our membership program to support our endeavor.

Why read it?

3 authors picked The Poppy War as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

The Poppy War is an epic, grim military fantasy inspired by the Sino-Japanese wars. Rin, a war orphan from the southern Rooster Provinces, aces the Empire-wide admittance exam to Sinegard–the premier military academy in Nikan. But as a dark-skinned peasant from a rural province, Rin’s struggles only compound as she fights for acceptance among her aristocratic peers. And when the fragile peace with Mugen is broken, Rin discovers her greatest powers come at even greater costs. 

I adore how The Poppy War combines the very best of the fantasy academia genre with military fantasy. Add in some heavy historical allegories,…

From L.J.'s list on non-western fantasy.

At first, The Poppy War seems like an edgier version of Harry Potter: an outcast-at-the-academy story with a slightly older protagonist, drugs, and a few incidents of self-harm. Then the book veers into Hell.

The setting has a lot to do with it. The Poppy War takes place in a fantasy version of 20th-century China; the eventual focus is a magic-infused retelling of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which included a slaughter sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten Holocaust.”

So, yeah: not a bedtime story to enjoy with your kids. I also wouldn’t start The Poppy War if you’re not in…

The first book in a celebrated trilogy by R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War more than earns its fame with innovative worldbuilding, an absorbing and sometimes shocking plot, and beautifully concise writing. But the reason it’s on this list is the way it deals with an almost unimaginable horror, taken from our real world into the realm of fantasy in a way that neither sensationalizes nor diminishes history. I am a descendant of genocide survivors twice over, which makes Kuang’s ability to tell this kind of story especially resonant for me. 

From Anya's list on fantasy to break your heart.

Want books like The Poppy War?

Our community of 7,000+ authors has personally recommended 10 books like The Poppy War.

Browse books like The Poppy War

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in war, shamans, and the second Sino-Japanese War?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about war, shamans, and the second Sino-Japanese War.

War Explore 257 books about war
Shamans Explore 7 books about shamans
The Second Sino-Japanese War Explore 10 books about the second Sino-Japanese War